Autumn is a time of change, both in human society and in nature. We have our harvest festivals – feeling very smug about a good harvest and our suntan. In nature everything is at it’s fullest. The frantic business of breeding, raising a family and holding territories is generally over. The hedgerows and trees are full of fruit and nuts (unless the grey squirrels have been there first!), and, at least until the first frost, living is easy. Soon though the trees will start to show their autumn colours, as the green chlorophyll and other useful minerals are drawn back into the tree for winter storage.

08 Fungi - Jujy_g11it7

In Beacon Hill wood the beeches will take on a glorious copper colour, and the woodland floor will be carpeted with leaves. The smell of autumn will remind us that winter is just a few weeks away. Nature’s recyclers are hard at work. Under our feet billions of microbes, insects and other soil invertebrates, and fungi are at work. Breaking down all the fallen leaves and wood into minerals for next years plants to use.

Fungi are a mysterious kingdom (they aren’t plants, because they can’t capture the sun’s energy through photosynthesis, but rely on others to do that for them). Their names describe their appearance or how they could be used:- Penny Bun, Wax Caps, Ink Caps, Beefsteak, Razor strop, Blewits, Wood woolly-foot, Fairy-ring, Horse Mushroom, Oyster, Death Cap and Avenging Angel (the last two, as their names imply are deadly poisonous).

Generally the ones that can do you serious harm are rare. Since moving to Somerset I must have eaten at least 30 species of wild fungi. But if you are thinking of trying the delights of Chanterelles or Giant Puffballs you need to get them identified properly by an expert. There are some excellent books with extremely good photos today, but it is still easy to make a mistake.

Les Cloutman