Silchester Wildlife Diary: October Highlights

If you live next to a forest, especially an ancient one like Pamber Forest, then there can really only be one topic to focus on for October – mushrooms!

Fly Agaric Mushroom

October (and November) is the month when there is an annual explosion of fungi or mushrooms in the forest and they come in a bewildering variety of sizes, colours and shapes. What you see and we call a mushroom is actually the fruiting body of a much larger organism. Below ground the fungi is a collection of fine tubes called a mycelium and whose function is to break down whatever the fungus feeds on and turn it into food. Fortunately for us, many fungi feed on fallen leaves and other things on the forest floor. If fungi didn’t do their annual job of breaking down and feeding on the leaf litter the forest would simply fill up with all the leaves that get shed each year. So, most mushrooms really perform a valuable service in the ecosphere. Of course, that’s not the case for all of them – some are poisonous and some feed on other things like fruits, living trees or even us (think athlete’s foot).  

There are about 15,000 different species of fungi in the UK – which is a staggering number. It also means that it is really difficult to know which ones to draw attention to in particular for an article such as this. So, I have decided to share with you just a few of my favourites. 

Russula Mushrooms

Firstly, the fly agaric (or amanita muscaria) can be seen throughout the forest. It feeds on beach leaves and so can be found wherever there are beach trees. It’s the classic mushroom because of its size and colour but I still get excited when I see a good specimen of one of these in the forest.

Pamber forest is also really good for Russula mushrooms. These tend to have a white fleshy stem and gills and then a brightly coloured cap that comes in lots of different colours. All of the mushrooms in this picture are Russulas of one variety or another.

Death Cap Mushroom

Finally, two favourites of mine which be seen in Pamber forest are two of the most highly poisonous species. Their names are a real give away – the Death Cap and the Destroying Angel. The Death Cap produces one of the most potent neurotoxins in nature and is the usual cause of death when you here about people dying of having eaten mushrooms. The Death Cap is in the same family as the fly agaric (its name is amanita phalloides) and you can see the resemblance.

Destroying Angel

I really enjoy finding the Destroying Angel as it is such a beautiful porcelain coloured mushroom with a really delicate structure that belies its lethal nature. Once again, it’s part of the amanita family. It goes without saying of course that I would not advise you to eat any of these species. People always get excited about the possibility of finding edible mushrooms in the forest but my advice would be to only pick things you have found on an organised fungus foray. With 15,000 species there an awful lot of mushrooms that look like each other. The Russulas are a good example of this. Some Russulas are edible but the species also contains The Sickener (the clue is in the name) and this just looks the same as many other Russulas.

So, Happy Hunting!