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Boosting nature with the waxcap app

Vital patches of species-rich grassland could be given greater protection against future development thanks to a successful citizen science project to map beautiful and highly-coloured waxcap fungi.

The UK is home to some of the most important waxcap grasslands and rare waxcap species in the world. Waxcaps are highly sensitive to mechanical and chemical treatment often associated with intensive farming, and so can be used as ‘indicators’ of ancient undisturbed grassland.

White spindle Clavaria fragilis (c) Lucia Chmurova
Blue-edged pinkgill Entoloma serrulatum (c) Lucia Chmurova

Over the past year, people from across England, Scotland and Wales have been using an app called WaxcApp to log the location of waxcaps and help uncover new sites.

Their findings are helping us to pinpoint fragments of old meadows and pastures which have been undisturbed by intensive modern farming methods – and which rare waxcap species rely on – so that steps can be taken to preserve them.

surveys submitted from 76 counties

In total, 576 surveys were submitted from 76 counties during 2021/22, with 46% from England, 39% from Wales and 15% from Scotland. A scoring system developed by Plantlife, which was based on the colours of the waxcaps people had spotted, was then used to establish whether the conservation interest of each site was low, moderate or high.

Of the 576 submissions made to WaxcApp during 2021/22: 

  • 190 had good waxcap diversity and were categorised as high potential
  • 212 had fewer colours and were given a moderate score
  • 174 were rated as low potential

Local expert groups will be notified about the high potential sites so that further investigations can take place. This could open the door for local authorities to designate them as ‘sites of importance of nature conservation’, which would give them greater protection from future development – all as a result of the survey work carried out using WaxcApp.

Hygrocybe Calyptriformis Pink Waxcap (c) Ray Woods

The WaxcApp results have been truly remarkable. We thought we had a good record of Wales’ grassland fungus diversity after more than 25 years of wide-ranging surveys, but WaxcApp users have found nearly 40 previously unknown sites for the Pink Ballerina Waxcap.

This will help us and the Welsh Government to safeguard important grassland fungus sites, and to work with partner organisations like Plantlife to provide advice to land managers on how to look after their fungi.

Sam Bosanquet, Specialist Advisor on Bryophytes, Lichens and Fungi for Natural Resources Wales

WaxcApp was originally launched in 2020 by the Magnificent Meadows Wales Project, which is funded by the Welsh Government, with 391 sightings logged in the first year. The initiative, designed partly to encourage people to get outdoors and engage with fungi in urban and rural grassy areas, was rolled out to Scotland and England 12 months later.

A dedicated Facebook group, called ‘#WaxcAppWatch: WaxcApp Surveyors’, was set up following the launch of the app and now hosts 1,065 members spread across 58 countries.

Image credits: Image 4 - Ray Woods, all other images - Lucia Chmurova

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