ANCIENT LIMESTONE GRASSLAND

This is now a scarce habitat nationally and it has wildlife that is particularly well adapted to the conditions. Some of that wildlife is now declining and under threat in the U.K. and Birkrigg has numerous examples of scarce species. However the area of grassland is decreasing as the condition of the Common deteriorates year on year.

The Common supports several species of breeding bird and seasonal visitors and a wide range of plants, butterflies and other insects associated with limestone and limestone pavement. But it is the fungi, and especially the waxcap fungi, that are particularly special here. Waxcap species have declined at an alarming rate nationally as most will not tolerate the addition of the artificial fertilisers so widely used today. Furthermore, they do not tolerate disturbance to the soil which can break up the networks of mycelia in below ground. When this happens, it can take very many years before the mycelia can again produce fruiting bodies (the fungi we see above ground). Regeneration from spores does occur but it is thought that it can take up to twenty years before fruiting bodies are produced and as the spores fall beneath the cap they are not distributed any great distance to colonise new ground. Birkrigg is the perfect refuge for waxcap species as no artificial fertiliser has been added and no ploughing has taken place.

Because of this, waxcaps have become of conservation concern in recent years. In 2007 a public enquiry into the Heysham-M6 link road (just across the Bay from Birkrigg) determined that they were of biological importance and must be moved from a pasture before the road was built. This was done in 2014 but it will be many years before it is known whether the translocation was successful. About 1400 fruiting bodies of nine species were moved. Birkrigg has almost twenty species!

In recent years the Ulverston group of Cumbria Wildlife Trust has been carrying out some limited conservation work on the Common, mainly cutting bracken and removing gorse seedlings to limit the further encroachment of these into the grassland areas. If you would like to help with this work please contact me (via the contact link on the Home page). In the long term a more sustainable management plan will be needed if this habitat is not to be lost.

Illustrated below are those species of waxcap that I have photographed on the Common. Against each name I have allocated a number, which is my estimate of the relative abundance of each species on the Common, from very occasional (1) to quite abundant (5).

Splendid Waxcap H. splendidissima. 2
Crimson Waxcap H. punicea. 5
Meadow Waxcap H. pratensis. 5
Heath Waxcap H. laeta. 4
Toasted Waxcap H. colemanniana. 3
Earthy Waxcap H. fornicata. 1
Golden Waxcap H. chlorophana. 3
Honey Waxcap H. reidii. 3
Snowy Waxcap H. virginea. 2
Cedarwood Waxcap H. russocoriacea. 3
Snowy Waxcap variety H virginea variety. ochraceopallida. 1
Snowy Waxcap variety H virginea variety fuscescens. 1
Parrot Waxcap H. psittacina. 5
Scarlet Waxcap H. coccinea. 4
Blackening Waxcap H. conica. 4
Persistent Waxcap A acutoconica 1
Butter Waxcap H. ceracia. 1
Oily Waxcap H quieta 2
 
Orange Waxcap H aurantiosplendens 2
 
Now for the what I call the "L'al red 'uns" (being a Lancastrian). These are the small (< 25 mm) variable species that can be red, orange, yellow or a mixture of all three! Identifications are speculative as full determination requires spore examination.
Vermilion Waxcap H miniata 3
Limestone Waxcap H calciphila (possibly) 1
Spangle Waxcap H insipida 2
Bitter Waxcap H. mucronella. 1
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