Monday, 29 October 2012

We just can't get enough fungi fun

This autumn is turning out to be Fungitastic with more and more mushrooms popping up and spotted by students out and about making the most of learning outside the classroom.

Lycoperdon Pyriforme (Common Puffball)
Our latest favourites are the Lycoperdon Pyriforme or more commonly known as the Common Puffball.  Apparently the genus name Lycoperdon means 'Wolf wind' which does make you wonder just how the mushroom came to get its name and who got close enough to a wolf to know what their wind was really like!  More commonly it is thought they got their name by the process of them 'exploding' their spores when ready, hence the name puffball.

Left:Russula Queletii (Fruity Brittlegill) right:Common Puffball

Another favourite that has popped up in the last week is the Russula Queletii or Fruity Brittlegill which also appears to have been a tasty favourite to slugs.  Apparently when crushed it smells like gooseberry jam but has a very bitter and unpleasant taste.

Fungi ring in the coniferous plantation

All of these fungi were spotted by Clifton High School Year 13 students who were carrying out diversity investigations as part of their A Level Biology course and added a little extra wow to a coniferous plantation. The fungi are thriving off the mulch and leaf litter and studies have shown that coniferous trees surrounded by fungal rings actually grown better living in symbiotic relationship with the tree.

Please remember:  Unless you are with an expert NEVER eat any fungi that you find as some are very poisonous!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

What is it? #6 revealed

photo: Wendy Denton
Dead man's fingers or Xylaria polymorpha are a type of mushroom, usually found growing on rotting or decaying wood, usually beech. They are inedible and have a surprising white, tough flesh inside, despite looking like burnt wood (or fingers!).

There are many different types of fungi with fantastic names, colours and shapes but remember that some mushrooms are very poisonous and can make you ill. Never taste a wild mushroom unless you are with an expert. 

For more fungi photos and information go to first-nature.

Friday, 26 October 2012

What is it? #6

photo: Wendy Denton
Any idea what these weird things are, found in Priors Wood by our very own Digital media placement, Wendy Denton? They were found on the ground on some old, rotting wood. This is a great time of year to find all sorts of strange and wonderful wildlife. What have you seen?

All will be revealed on Sunday :)

Sunday, 21 October 2012

What is it? #5 revealed

photo: Wendy Denton
This is the most invasive ladybird on Earth and it's called a harlequin ladybird, harmonia axyridis. Where you right? 

It arrived in Britain in 2004, possibly on some flowers or vegetables that were brought in to the country from Europe or Canada. It is a real danger to our native ladybird as it's a very good predator and can travel further distances than our native ladybirds, allowing it to find more food and easily out compete them. Harlequin ladybirds also eat a greater range of food, so if there are few aphids about they will eat other prey, including ladybird eggs, larvae and pupae!
Like all ladybirds, the harlequin ladybird undergoes complete metamorphosis and goes through an egg, larval, pupal and adult stage.Scarily a single female can lay over 1000 eggs! The most common ladybird in Britain is the seven spot ladybird but the two spot ladybird has declined by nearly half since the arrival of the harlequins.

So how can you tell the difference? Well, harlequin ladybirds are larger and more round than our natives.The most common forms in Britain are orange with 15-21 spots or black with 2 or 4 orange/red spots and their legs are almost always brown. If your ladybird is less than 5mm then it is unlikely to be a harlequin.
Here's a selection of harlequin ladybirds that were found on one site in London. you can see that the markings do vary quite a lot and it can be difficult to distinguish from a native ladybird. For more help and to log your sightings go to the Harlequin Ladybird survey site -

If you'd like to print out a guide to the most prominent ladybirds in the UK to help you go ladybird spotting you can find a good one here.

So, finally, here's a little quiz for you. See if you can work out if the ladybirds in the pictures below are native or harlequins. Good luck!

Friday, 19 October 2012

What is it? #5

photo: Wendy denton
It may look cute and friendly but what is it? Discovered in a back garden in Bristol this innocent looking creature may well be a whole load of trouble.

Can you tell me why?
Have you seen one that looks the same?

If you followed our Summer Wildlife Safari you can probably identify it easily. If not, see if you can find out what it's called and then go and see if you can find one in the wild. 

Come back on Sunday and find out if you were right!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Autumnal Antics at Brown's Folly

'Rickety old bark hanging like a bat
Lumpy leaves swaying in the breeze
Rotten branches with putrid fungus
Roots emerging like witches fingers
Fluffy moss climbing high to the sky' 

It was a beautiful day to go exploring in the woods today with the lovely Key Stage 2 class from Churchfields The Village School in Monkton Farleigh. Using our new Brown's Folly Nature Journals pupils explored the hedges, fields and ancient woodlands, discovering hawthorn berries, hazelnuts, beetles and spiders, learning about the importance of wildlife corridors to provide shelter and food for a whole range of wildlife.

The sun shone and pupils wrote amazing poems about their favourite trees. Wow, they were creative!
The dead tree, lying in front of me
How magical could it be?
The rotteness of the dead
Just coming to haunt my bed
The tree was black as black
And wrinkling, like a soft rag
Slippy as ice...perfect for woodlice.Tom
Owls hoot and squirrels scramble
Sleepy leaves let loose, float to the ground
Wiggly branches twisting and turning
Homes for birds, drowsy and tired
Sleeping itself, the big, old tree
Conkers let loose fall down to the ground
For me to pick up and take home.Grace

We played the Camouflage game to see how good they were at hiding in the woods - Harriet won but she was the only one that outwitted me! We found nuts nibbled by wood mice, tree snails hiding in the bark, squirrels storing food for the winter, spiders in webs, ladybirds, woodlice, huge slugs and even a red admiral butterfly making the most of the late sun.

If you live near Bath and would like one of our Brown's Folly nature journals then leave a comment and I will get back to you.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

What is it? #4 revealed

photo: Wendy Denton
So, did you guess correctly? It's called Ribwort Plantain or Plantago lanceolata and is very common. It is often thought of as a weed but it also has valuable medicinal qualities.For example, the leaves can be made into a tea for a cough medicine and used as a dressing for wounds and swellings.The root is said to be a remedy for the bite of a rattlesnake and the seeds used in the treatment of parasitic worms.Even a distilled water made from the plant is said to be a good eye treatment. 

Many years ago people would have had a much better knowledge of local plants and their uses. Sadly, that knowledge is becoming lost as people spend less and less time outdoors. However, please do not attempt to use any plant as a medicine knowing what you are doing, some plants are extremely poisonous and could cause harm. One thing I can tell you though is that plantain is supposed to be even better than a dock leaf for healing a sting from a nettle.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Forging friendships at Folly Farm

What better way to get settled in to your first term at secondary school and make new friends than a residential visit to our Folly Farm Centre. 

37 year 7 students from Wells Cathedral School enjoyed a overnight residential last week focusing on teambuilding and class cohesion.  Students took part in a packed programme of bushcraft, survival skills and teamwork challenges exploring the stunning nature reserve of Folly Farm as well as a night walk, listening and learning about the nocturnal wildlife that thrives around the Centre.

Here's what their teacher had to say:

"It was just magical and the kids had some real adventures and bonded just like we hoped they would.  We had a fantastic time and it was perfectly organised and run thank you so much"

If you would like to know more about our courses for secondary school check out our new
secondary school website or contact us

What is it? #4

photo: Wendy Denton
This week it's a plant for you to identify. Do you know what it is? It has medicinal qualities and can be found all over the place, in parks and meadows. You might even have some growing on your school field or in your garden. 

I'll give you a clue - it has 2 words in it's name.

Find out on Sunday if you were right!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

What is it? #3 revealed

photo: Kate Pressland
It's a dor beetle! Were you right? Although it looks quite chunky it does actually fly quite successfully. Dor is an old word for drone and it does actually make quite a loud noise as it flies around, considering the size of it.

The dor beetle is one of our largest dung beetles so have you worked out what it eats yet? Yes, that's right,they eat poo or 'dung'. The adults and larvae eat their own weight in dung every day. This might sound revolting but they actually do a great job of cleaning up the countryside for us.

Mating pairs work together to find a nice juicy cowpat, usually at night. The female then digs a hole underneath it and makes small chambers off to the sides. She lays an egg in each chamber and when the egg hatches the larva has enough dung to eat for a few months.When larva is big enough it pupates underground and emerges the following year as an adult. What a life!

Friday, 5 October 2012

What is it? #3

photo: Kate Pressland
What is this? Yes I know it's an insect, a creepy crawly, a minibeast, but what type is it? Look at it's fabulously shiny body. It must have a good, healthy diet to produce that lovely sheen. I wonder what it eats? Any ideas?

Have you seen one of these before? They actually fly too! Why don't you go and do your own minibeast hunt this weekend and let us know what you find. You could draw a picture or take a photo and see if you can identify it using iSpot.

Many organisations conduct surveys to help us find out more about different species. This means your findings could help scientists work out ways to help wildlife in the future. If you like insects then check out the surveys offered by Buglife to see how you can help. Meanwhile, tell us what you think the insect in the picture is and come back on Sunday to find out the answer.