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Top 10 weirdest and rarest woodland wildlife to get you in the mood for an autumnal walk

23 Sep 2022 6 minute read
Photo issued by Woodland Trust of the beefsteak fungus (Fistulina hepatica).

If you go down to the woods today, you might see a fungus which oozes “blood” or a beetle that lives in a cocoon made from its own dung.

The Woodland Trust has released a list of some of the weird and wonderful wildlife that can be found in the woods, including some that are much more common – and rarer – in Wales.

They range from a smelly, phallic-shaped fungus that some Victorians attacked with cudgels as they were embarrassed by it, to ducks that nest in trees, and a cranefly that uses a “wasp” disguise.

The list has been published after a recent report from the charity showed that woodland wildlife is declining and only 7% of woodlands in the country are in good ecological condition.

Alastair Hotchkiss, a conservation adviser at the Woodland Trust, said: “Now more than ever before, with the climate change and biodiversity crises, do we need to protect and restore the UK’s natural environments.

“These 10 species are just the tip of the iceberg – or the mushroom poking up from the soil’s vast mycelial web – of secrets that our woodland habitats hold.

“Every species can tell us a story, everything has a role to play, and we have so much still to learn. We must do our best to make sure we don’t lose them.”

The 10 examples of weird and wonderful woodland wildlife are:

Photo issued by Woodland Trust of a Wasp banded comb horn (Ctenophora flaveolata).

Wasp banded comb horn (Ctenophora flaveolata)

This is a species you’re less likely to see in Wales – and you may be happy to hear that!

A harmless species of cranefly, it mimics something more like a wasp that could bring a nasty sting and is found in old wooded landscapes where its larvae live in the decaying wood in big, old trees.

It is scarce in England and even rarer in Wales, where it is a priority for conservation action.

Photo issued by Woodland Trust of String-of-sausages lichen (Usnea articulata).

String-of-sausages lichen (Usnea articulate)

This lichen, which resembles a miniature string of sausages, and has anti-cancer properties, is ab organism you’re more likely to come across in Wales than other nations in the UK.

As it is extremely sensitive to air pollution, it is mainly restricted to cleaner areas such as the south-west of Wales, where “fairy butcher shops” are draped over the branches of trees.

Photo issued by Woodland Trust of a Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus).

Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus)

This pungent fungus is usually smelt before it is seen, but its phallic shape so embarrassed some Victorians that they attacked it with cudgels.

It was used in medieval times as a cure for gout and a love potion, while more recent scientific evidence points to potential medicinal use for venous thrombosis.

Photo issued by Woodland Trust of Knothole yoke-moss (Zygodon forsteri).

Knothole yoke-moss (Zygodon forsteri)

If you spot this globally rare moss in Wales, you should tell a naturalist.

This globally rare moss is only known to survive at three sites in the British Isles, living in the water-filled rot holes of old living trees such as ancient beech pollards in the New Forest, Epping and Burnham Beeches near London.

The Woodland Trust says the moss is a good example of how protecting ancient and veteran trees supports a host of other wildlife.

Photo issued by Woodland Trust of a Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula).

Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)

A duck that nests in natural cavities or old woodpecker nests up in trees, mainly around the Cairngorms in Scotland.

Its nesting strategy means day-old chicks have to hurl themselves – like James Bond’s leap off the dam in the opening scene of the film Goldeneye – from as high as 30ft up the tree while their mother calls encouragement.

Beefsteak fungus. Picture by Henk Monster (CC BY 3.0).

The beefsteak fungus (Fistulina hepatic)

This woodland fungus has the appearance of a raw cut of meat, and even oozes a blood-like substance when cut.

The fungus is an “ecosystem engineer”, hollowing out ancient trees and leaving the rot inside to provide food to bugs and fungi, and holes for nesting birds.

Photo issued by Woodland Trust of a Hazel pot beetle (Cryptocephalus coryli).

Hazel pot beetle (Cryptocephalus coryli)

This is one of the UK’s rarest insects and Sherwood Forest, the legendary home of Robin Hood, is one of the only known remaining sites for the once widespread beetle.

It creates a pot or cocoon to lay eggs and keep larvae in that it has created using its own faeces.

Photo issued by Woodland Trust of Eagle’s claw lichen (Anaptychia ciliaris).

Eagle’s claw lichen (Anaptychia ciliaris)

This lichen, which looks like the talons of an eagle clinging to a tree trunk, was hit by the loss of elms to Dutch elm disease, as well as air pollution.

It now faces the loss of trees to ash dieback, and is restricted to just a few spots mainly in south-west England and the Welsh borders.

Photo issued by Woodland Trust of a Lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros).

Lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros)

This bat likes the cover and the abundance of its prey – small moths, midges and mosquitos – in woods.

But unlike many bats which roost inside trees, horseshoes mainly roost in caves, mines and stately homes in well-wooded landscapes, hanging Dracula-style with their wings wrapped around their bodies.

Photo issued by Woodland Trust of Deceptive featherwort (Pseudomarsupidium decipiens).

Deceptive featherwort (Pseudomarsupidium decipiens)

This shiny liverwort grows in loose cushions on the side of rocks in very humid or boulder-strewn woodlands in western Britain and Ireland.

The British localities of the species – which is also found in the tropics – are its most northerly sites, found in our rare temperate rainforests which are under a multitude of threats, from air pollution to invasive rhododendron.

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