The importance of fungal refugia
Fungi are central to the life support systems of Wales and planet Earth. The role they play in recycling materials is generally appreciated but their almost ubiquitous presence in and on plants and animals is only now coming to light. That these relationships appear to be largely beneficial to both partners is severely testing our preconception of fungi as being mostly undesirable and parasitic. The role of fungi in soil formation and conservation and carbon sequestration is also still little understood. What is certain is that fungi play a significant role at the heart of most ecosystems.
The study of fungi is known as mycology and while interest in fungi is growing, there are few specialist mycologists in Wales or in Britain.
Fungi species in Britain are likely to exceed 12,500. Many of these are extremely under-recorded with just a few British records and there is very little reason to expect every species which are not recorded in Wales are absent. With greater recording effort and breakthroughs in DNA identification, a more up to date picture of the diversity and abundance of Welsh fungi will emerge. Woodlands support the most diverse fungal assemblages in Wales.
Only 56 species have had their conservation status globally evaluated by the IUCN red list compared with 25,452 plants and 68,054 animal species. Considering that it is estimated to be somewhere between 2.2 to 3.8 million species (a number that far exceeds the diversity of the plant and animal kingdoms) of which we have only, as yet, identified approximately 150,000 it is likely that there are significantly more species at risk. Habitat destruction, climate change, and environmental degradation are all contributing factors for the abysmal loss of bio-diversity we are seeing today, we are causing a mass extinction event because of the way we choose to live and our ignorance of our interconnectedness with all living beings. We need to create more refugia that will serve as havens of biological preservation while we, hopefully, take action to prevent this catastrophe.
At Coed Talylan, we would like to contribute towards making such havens by entrusting a 15 ha semi-natural woodland area as a living fungarium with the aim to host one of the highest concentrations of fungal diversity in the UK. It requires a carefully planned long-term management plan that conserves and restores provisions for all the plant and animal fungal interactions that proliferate in a healthy bio-diverse ecosystem.
There are many ways to start contributing towards spreading the knowledge of fungi and even start recording what you find, for example via local and regional fungus groups around the UK dedicated to fungi identification, research and field visits. Joining one of these groups is a great way of learning more about fungal identification and record keeping of the fungal species found in your bioregion. Many of these groups are affiliated with the British Mycological Society and a full list of them can be found here.
For those of you living closer to the Refungium here in the Brecon Beacon National Park the following links will take you to the regional fungus groups in Wales
Sources: Wales Biodiversity Partnership