The NHBS Guide to Fungi Identification

Chicken of the Woods by Thijs de Bruin via Flickr

From mould to yeast, fungi are a diverse kingdom with over 15,000 species in the UK. Fungi are made up of different microscopic thread like bodies called hyphae, and collectively hyphae form mycelium. Mushrooms or toadstools are the reproductive, umbrella shaped fruiting bodies of certain fungi. These organisms can be found in almost every natural habitat, but more kinds of macro-fungi tend to be found in woodlands, as they provide a rich and continuing nutrient source and a wide range of microhabitats. 

Autumn is a great time of the year to explore the fascinating world of fungi, as most species enjoy the slightly cooler and wetter conditions. To those familiar with identifying plants, birds and mammals, mushroom and fungi identification can be a tricky task requiring a different kind of approach. However there are some distinct, common species that are much easier to identify than others, and getting a great ID book can really help. In this blog we focus on 10 common, easier to identify types of mushrooms and toadstools found in the UK, alongside some key characteristics and where to find them. 

How to identify:

Some fungi cannot be identified without a microscope, however those in this blog can be identified using macro characteristics displayed by the fruiting body. Most are umbrella or mushroom shaped with gills on the cap underside. Below are some key characteristics to look out for when identifying:

  • Fruiting body – shape, colour and size 
  • Gills – in particular how they attach to the stem, a spore print can also be taken
  • Stem – shape, colour, size
  • Smell and texture
  • Habitat
Mushroom picking and safety

This blog has not been written to be used for finding edible species, please be cautious as fungi can be highly poisonous.

1. Hedgehog Fungus – Hydnum repandum
Hedgehog Fungus by Lynn Martin via Flickr

Other common names: Wood Hedgehog, Sweet Tooth or Pied de Mouton

Identification: In place of gills, this species has spines (stalactite-like projections) under the cap, making it look rather hedgehog like. The spines are paler than the cap, and the cap is creamy, medium-sized and fleshy. Cap is 3-17 cm across. Stem is short and stocky.

Where to find them: On soil among litter, under broad-leaved woodland, in particular with beech or oak, sometimes with other species, including in coniferous woods; often in troops.

2. Giant Puffball – Calvatia gigantea
Giant Puffball by Ciska van Geer via Flickr

Identification: One of the largest fungi in the UK, it is similar in size to a football. The young fruiting bodies are solid, white, thin and smooth and then later turn olive, then finally brown when it opens. When mature it is roughly 20-75 cm across. There is no stem, however it can be connected to the ground by a fine root like filament.

Where to find: Can be found in grasslands, pasture, lawns, commons and roadsides, and can be found in open woodlands, often with nettles and rubbish.

3. Wood Blewit –  Lepista nuda or Clitocybe nuda 
Wood Blewit by Julie via Flickr

Identification: Has a blue to violet tinged cap and gills when young, however older caps turn tan or grey from the centre. Gills are crowded and grow into the stalk and fade to brown as the mushroom matures. The cap is roughly 5-15 cm across, and the stem 5-10 cm tall.

Where to find: Amongst leaf litter in woods, hedgerows and gardens. Can also be found in grasslands away from trees

4. Common Inkcap – Coprinopsis atramentaria
Common Inkcap by Roy Lowry via Flickr

Other common names: Inky Cap

Identification: A grey to fawn cap that is at first egg-shaped and then later bell shaped. The surface is smooth and splits into a few tiny scales from the apex, the edges are often wavy and split. Stem is white and hollow. Cap is around 4-8 cm across and stem is 5-15 cm tall.

Where to find: Very common – wherever there is buried wood.

5. Fly Agaric – Amanita muscaria
Fly Agaric by Derek Parker via Flickr









Other common names: Fly Amanita

Identification: One of the most iconic toadstools depicted in fairy-tale illustrations.  It has a shiny, scarlet red or orange cap with white wart-like spots dotted across. Cap is 8-20 cm across. The gills are white and free, and the stem is swollen with rings of scales.

Where to find: In mixed woodlands and heaths, mostly amongst birch, pine and spruce.

6. Jelly Ear – Auricularia auricula-judae
Jelly Ear by Steve Balcombe via Flickr

Other common names: Jew’s Ear or Wood Ear

Identification: Initially cup-shaped and smoothed, the fruiting body develops lobes in the shape of a wrinkled human ear. Soft, gelatinous and a date-brown colour, but when it dries it is much smaller, darker and harder. Upper surface is velvety, and is attached laterally by a small stalk. Up to 8cm across.

Where to find: Commonly found on living or dead wood of elder, but also recorded on many other woody species.

7. Common Stinkhorn – Phallus impudicus
Common Stinkhorn by Obas via Flickr

Identification: Known for releasing a foul odour to attract flies which eat the spore-bearing slimy head. The foul smell can be detected far and wide, most often before seeing it. Initially it appears like a white egg which feels soft, but then later splits at the apex and a thick, white hollow stem appears with a polystyrene texture. Head is conical shaped, slimy and olive-green topped by a small, white ring. Grows up to 25 cm tall.

Where to find: Among leaf litter in woodlands and also in gardens.

8. Chicken of the Woods – Laetiporus sulphureus
Chicken of the Woods by Thijs de Bruin via Flickr

Other common names: Sulphur Polypore, Crab of the Woods and Sulphur Shelf

Identification: A thick, fleshy, bracket that is fan-shaped and soft to touch. Older brackets become sharp-edged with a dry, chalky texture. The upper surface is initially bright orange or yellow with a velvety touch, this later fades to a creamy-yellow with a smooth, dry surface. The very small pores on the underside are a pale yellow. Bracket is 10-40cm across.

Where to find: Can be found growing tiered mostly on oak trunks but also on sweet chestnut, yew and beech.

9. Scarlet Elfcup – Sarcoscypha austriaca
Scarlet Elfcup by Claire Dell via Flickr

Identification: Are cup-shaped and scarlet, however can also be bright orange. Stems attach to the leaf litter making them appear as hollow bowls lying on the woodland floors. Cups are roughly 4cm across.

Where to find: Although not very common it is reasonably widespread, and can be found in damp, shady areas on decaying sticks and branches. It can be found on the fallen twigs and branches of hazel, elm and willow in late winter and early spring.

10. Beefsteak Fungus – Fistulina hepatica
Beefsteak Fungus by Curiosity thrills via Flickr

Identification: This strange fungus appears like an ox tongue or piece of raw meat and oozes a blood like substance when cut. When young the bracket is soft and moist with a pinky-red upperside and broad margin. Older brackets are a liver-brown and much firmer with a sharp edge. The underside has yellow pores which release red-brown spores and often exude a red, blood like liquid. Brackets are about 8-20 cm across and 3-6 cm thick.

Where to find: Usually found low on the trunk of old, living oak trees and sweet chestnut trees, and sometimes on their stumps.

Recommended Reading/Guides:


Collins Fungi Guide: The Most Complete Field Guide to the Mushrooms & Toadstools of Britain & Ireland


Nearly 2400 species are illustrated in full colour, with detailed notes on how to correctly identify them, including details of similar, confusing species.


Collins Complete Guide to British Mushrooms & Toadstools


By only covering Britain and Ireland, fewer species are included than in many broader European guides, making it quicker and easier for the reader to accurately identify what they have found.



Fungi of Temperate Europe (2-Volume Set)


This lavish two-volume set treats more than 2,800 species of fungi across the region.


Collection by Geoffrey Kibby

Full collection of books 

Geoffrey Kibby is one of Britain’s foremost experts on identifying mushrooms in the field and has published a range of excellent guides/handbooks to mushroom identification.



Grassland Fungi: A Field Guide (Second Edition)


The second edition draws on an additional three years of surveying done over a wider area, adding 23 new species to the 177 already described in the first edition



Bloomsbury Concise Mushroom Guide


This illustrated mini field guide is packed with information on 200 species of fungi found in Britain and the near Continent.




Edible Mushrooms: A Forager’s Guide to the Wild Fungi of Britain, Ireland and Europe


An up-to-date, comprehensive and brilliantly illustrated book on fungi foraging in Britain and Europe. It covers every known edible species, and all the poisonous groups, as well as a few other extremely common ones.


The Fungi Name-Trail: A Key to Commoner Fungi


Key to some of the more easily recognised fungi present in Britain’s woods and fields. The name trial takes you through a series of yes or no questions to help you identify your fungi.


NHBS In the Field – Pettersson U-series USB Ultrasonic Microphone

The Pettersson U-series microphone is a powerful ultrasonic USB microphone that is designed to be plugged into a smartphone, tablet or laptop to listen to and record bats. The microphone is available in two options: the u256, which has a sample rate of up to 256kHz and the u384, which has a sample rate of up to 384kHz. Both models use a MEMS ultrasonic microphone for its high sensitivity, low noise and ultra-low power consumption. The units themselves are pocket sized and feature a robust aluminium outer casing, making them ideal for taking out into the field. They connect to your device using a micro-USB connector but can be converted to connect to USB-C, lightning connector, or USB by using an adapter. Once connected, they can then be used alongside a variety of apps for viewing and recording bat calls. 

How We Tested

We tested the Pettersson u384 with a fully charged Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 using the Bat Recorder app from the Play Store. The app instantly recognised the microphone when plugged in using an Arktec Micro USB to USB-C adapter. We took the device out on a warm early September evening around the time of sunset and chose a footpath which included some open areas and some wooded areas to allow the microphone to detect bats as we walked through differing habitats.

What We Found

The Pettersson u384 produced beautifully clear recordings with little noise. The Bat Recorder app worked perfectly with the Pettersson u384 , producing wonderful live sonograms and making it easy to record calls and look back over previous recordings. We recorded noctule, soprano and common pipistrelles on our short bat walk, and it was clear that the microphone was picking them up from at least 15m away when the bat was flying towards us. When listening out loud, we had to ensure the listening mode was on ‘Heterodyne’ rather than ‘Frequency Division’, so as to avoid audio feedback when the volume was high, but listening through headphones was easier and meant there was no risk of feedback. 

Our Opinion

The Pettersson u384 is an excellent quality microphone that produces low-noise, professional recordings. It has the advantage of being small and incredibly easy to transport – working alongside a device that most people already carry with them on surveys and bat walks. The Bat Recorder app was easy to navigate and very well made, although it would have been nice if the £5.49 cost of the app was already incorporated into the cost of the detector, or if the detector came with its own app for convenience, but Pettersson do state that the recorder works with multiple recording apps. We would recommend that live audio is listened to through headphones to avoid interference and help preserve the clean and crisp recordings that the detector was capable of. Overall, the Pettersson u384 is a fantastic USB microphone that would be a great asset to any bat worker or ecologist.

The Pettersson U-Series USB Ultrasonic Microphone is available through the NHBS website.

To view our full range of bat detectors, visit If you have any questions about any of our products or would like some advice then please contact us via email at or phone on 01803 865913.

This Week in Biodiversity News – 14th September

On 9th September the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) published the 2020 Living Planet Report which warns of drastic declines in mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles. The report also suggests ways in which we might curb biodiversity loss and begin recovery by 2050.

Loss of sea otters is proving to be devastating for the limestone reefs that underpin Alaskan kelp forest ecosystems. In a healthy, functional system, otters predate the sea urchins that graze on the reefs, but dwindling population sizes mean that reefs are likely to collapse within decades.

Despite the debate around the role and value of protected areas, recent research from the University of Queensland has shown that, when well-managed, they are incredibly effective. 80% of mammal species monitored doubled their coverage in protected areas over a period of 50 years, and 10% of the mammals studied survived solely on protected land.

This weekend, Sir David Attenborough returned to our screens in the UK with a new one-hour production titled Extinction: The Facts. In a departure from his usual style, the documentary depicts scenes of destruction, loss and crisis for many wild populations and ecosystems. His final line, however, is a call to arms: “What happens next, is up to every one of us”.



An interview with Derek Gow: Bringing Back the Beaver

Derek Gow has written an inspirational and often riotously funny firsthand account of how the movement to rewild the British landscape with beavers has arguably become the single most dramatic and subversive nature conservation act of the modern era.

Derek has taken time to answer a few questions about his new book and the role beavers can have in restoring nature.

Derek Gow © Chris Robbins

Could you tell us a little about your background and where the motivation for this book comes from?

I was born in Dundee in a council house. My grandfather’s generation had been farmers but my parents were not. I have always had a huge interest in nature which developed as I grew older. In time I began a career in farming and while aspects of this life were appealing, I became less enamoured with the impact of farming on the natural world and the savage repercussions of its consequence. I read all Gerald Durrell’s books when small, attended his field course on Jersey in 2000 and from that point on, initially as a manger for several wildlife centres focused on native wildlife and then ultimately, on my own farm, began to pioneer opportunities for wildlife restoration.

You have a clear affection for beavers; will a more emotive dialogue help spread the idea of restoring nature to a broader base, or do you think the science will win hearts and minds?

I think it’s a combination of both. You need science to back a case for their sentient restoration on the back of all the credible good they do, but you also need people to feel emotionally linked. They are the most wonderful of creature’s – creators of landscapes which are brim-full of life. They are caring for their offspring and while savagely territorial with other beavers, are commonly as individuals, largely benign. We did appalling things to them in the past and in effort to forge a better future I see no harm in explaining to people just how critical it is that we consider other species as individuals of worth and importance with characters as well.

There are so many organisations involved; some still going, some now inoperative: DEFRA, IUCN, SNH, EN, NCC, CLA etc. How do you manage to reach a consensus across all those organisations, and do you think the voice for restoring nature needs streamlining?

Yes it needs streamlining, but we need to be much bolder and much less deferential. In the commercial world if individuals or organisations perform poorly then they are dismissed or they disappear as entities. In nature conservation we are way too good at ignoring duffers and making excuses for their mistakes. This situation however uncomfortable is simply no good and at a time of ecological crisis potentially fatal. We must be bullish in our approach to progress while still retaining what reasonable allies there are. The pace of restoration should be swift rather than slow. There is no reason whatsoever for delay.

The activities of beavers such as: felling trees and potentially flooding arable land sound quite alarming to a lot of people. How are those issues addressed when proposing to reintroduce beavers?

Simple. We published a management handbook in 2016 which you chaps help sell and promote. Beavers are a very well understood species in both continental Europe and North America all we need to do is co-opt the sensible programmes of management and understanding which have been applied there to here, stop gibbering and making up excuses and move on. There is nothing they do which we can’t counteract if we wish to do so. A wider programme of education to promote better understanding is an essential first step.

Beavers seem to be a benchmark to define our future relationship with wild creatures. Does your campaign stop at beavers, or would you like to see other ‘lost’ species reintroduced to Britain?

I think that lynx should be restored with reasonable haste if living space which is suitably large with an adequate abundance of prey sufficient to maintain a viable population exists. I think wildcats must be restored in England and in Wales. Other candidates would be species like the great bustard, wild boar, golden, white tailed eagles and common crane; in a wider range, the burbot, black stork/more whites, vultures and many other amphibians, reptiles and insects. I think a dialogue should begin about learning to relive with the wolf now. If we want to have future forests which the deer can’t destroy we will need this predator very much.

Does Brexit and the eventual demise of the Common Agricultural Policy offer any hope for a more nature sensitive approach to farming in the UK?

Yes it does. We can do it our way now but we must recognise that very much good has come from the EU habitats directive and that our way should seek to exceed and surmount this legislation and not just become a tawdry box ticking exercise in excuse manufacturing and prevarication.

With beavers now established in Devon on the River Otter, how do you see that project developing in the next five years?

The beaver population there will expand for sure to number many 100’s over time. Many other rivers should become the focus of further reintroductions as a result of the excellent field work and research carried out on the Otter by a broad range of partnership bodies. The project and its results demonstrate quite graphically that beavers are entirely tolerable in a modern cultural English landscape with a degree of low level intervention and that their engineering activities enable an abundance of other wildlife to flourish.

Have you any projects you are currently involved in, or planning that you can tell us about?

Together with a range of other organisations I am working to form a wood cat project which will culminate in the reintroduction of the wildcat in Devon. The old English name was the wood cat and those of us involved think therefore that this is a more appropriate escutcheon. Next year I will be releasing white storks on my farm and rewilding over 150 acres of land which I own. In March 2021 I will complete work on a new book for Chelsea Green titled The Hunt for the Iron Wolf which will detail the history of this species in the UK.

Bringing Back the Beaver: The Story of One Man’s Quest to Rewild Britain’s Waterways
By: Derek Gow
Hardback | September 2020| £19.99

Derek Gow’s inspirational first-hand account of beaver reintroduction across England and Scotland.


Derek Gow © Chris Robbins

Derek Gow is a farmer and nature conservationist. Born in Dundee in 1965, he left school when he was 17 and worked in agriculture for five years. Inspired by the writing of Gerald Durrell, all of whose books he has read – thoroughly – he jumped at the chance to manage a European wildlife park in central Scotland in the late 1990s before moving on to develop two nature centres in England. He now lives with his children, Maysie and Kyle, on a 300-acre farm on the Devon/Cornwall border which he is in the process of rewilding. Derek has played a significant role in the reintroduction of the Eurasian beaver, the water vole and the white stork in England. He is currently working on a reintroduction project for the wildcat.

Browse more books about this keystone species

Sharpham Wild for People: an Interview with Jack Skuse

The beautiful and historic Sharpham Estate runs alongside the River Dart just outside Totnes in South Devon. Beginning this year, a three-year project called Wild for People, run by the Sharpham Trust under a National Lottery Heritage Fund project, will begin to enhance the biodiversity of this 550-acre area, aided by a passionate team of conservation trainees. Working with Ambios Ltd, who are based on the Estate, this project aims to turn more of the Sharpham Estate organic, re-wild significant parts of the landscape and encourage more people to interact with the nature there.

Jack Skuse, director of Ambios, recently took the time to chat with us about the Sharpham Wild for People project. In this inspiring conversation we talk about the practicalities of rewilding working alongside food production, how the Covid pandemic has affected the first year of the project, and his tips for people wanting to get into a career in conservation.

Can you tell us a little bit about the history of the Sharpham Estate and how the land is currently used?

Sharpham is an ancient landscape. People are known to have lived here from at least 1260. The landscape as we currently see it was designed this way during a period when the estate was owned by Philamon Pownell. He was a sea captain who captured a Spanish galleon laden with treasure from South America. With his wealth he set about transforming Sharpham, building the Palladian villa (designed by famous architect Robert Taylor) and creating the Sharpham Parkland – sweeping away hedgerows to open up vistas from the main carriage drives across the estate and into Totnes, and planting trees to accentuate and frame the views. Since his death the estate has had different owners, however, the parkland has remained largely intact, with the vineyard being the main alteration to this landscape in more recent times. Today Ambios rent and manage part of the estate (80 acres) and have recently signed the lease for a further 50 acres for rewilding and nature conservation training, and in partnership with United Response provide a care day service for adults with learning difficulties and disabilities.

What are your current trainees busy with at the moment?

Ambios offer three-month traineeships for people looking for a career in nature conservation, alongside other nature training opportunities in the UK and EU. Our current crop of trainees have been here since early July, having been through an early Covid-19 quarantine period. The first part of the traineeship is about building confidence in nature, often supporting the academic education many would have had at university with practical skills and applied knowledge – the skills the sector demands. This includes species ID (birds, plants, bats, etc), technical language training, practical skills including basic carpentry and land-based work, as well as engaging with the public through online platforms. Now that they have developed some of these skills, the central part of the placement is about taking ownership of a project that relates to rewilding. As this is our first year rewilding, there are many baseline surveys the trainees are carrying out with our team of trainers supporting their work. Surveys include grasslands, crickets and grasshoppers, river birds, butterflies. One of our trainees has also taken on the task of producing content for our website around rewilding and linking with other projects/information so that people looking at our site can network into the world of rewilding – a learning resource. This is in collaboration with Rewilding Britain.

How has the Covid pandemic affected the project this year?

It is impossible to imagine a year like this one and, as with all businesses, we have been significantly affected. The day service in partnership with United Response closed, and only now we are beginning to reopen. This meant much of the day-to-day work of the farm had to be reappointed to our long term volunteer team – right in the middle of our lambing and calving period! Many of our trainees come from the EU, and our traineeships saw reduced numbers. Our risk assessment put in place some strict measures to ensure everyone was safe and followed protocol. Some of our staff were furloughed meaning our work had to simplify and streamline, and some of our training content moved online (our Effective Camera Trapping Course for instance). Meanwhile, we have been working to enter into a comprehensive agri-environment scheme for our new land to rewild (50 acres) to subsidise our farming practice and allow us to prioritise wildlife. Given the land is listed historic parkland this is not without its complexity – see below!

One of the aims of the Wild for People project is to help more people engage with nature on the estate. Is the area open to the public and/or do you host events that local people can get involved with?

In partnership with Sharpham Trust we have been awarded £177,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to run a comprehensive public programme of education and events alongside our rewilding. This naturally has had a slower start than originally planned due to the pandemic but the funding has allowed us to offer fully subsidised placements on our traineeship. Alongside this we will start up a new volunteer day later this year to allow hands on engagement with rewilding. The process over the next three years – the duration of the Lottery project and the first three years (of five) of our tenancy and agri-environment countryside stewardship programme – will be to reinstate the historic parkland at Sharpham, which is in a degraded state, and convert the land to organic status. This will involve planting 140 trees in their original location from over 200 years ago, repairing the bridge over the Sharpham Marsh and allowing permissive access to the historic viewpoint with the installation of kissing gates. It will also allow us to fence the perimeter of the holding to allow stock to freely roam across the full 50 acres, choosing where to forage, dung and rest uninterrupted, passing between the two parcels of land either side of the public access farm track with the aid of gates. This work programme will sit with our public invitation volunteer days, our nature conservation traineeship and the work programme for the people United Response support. Sharpham Trust will also run a series of public events and school visits, culminating in an annual Bioblitz where we can study the impact of our rewilding over an intensive 24-hour wildlife survey period.

In terms of rewilding, do you feel it is important to strike a balance between the land being ‘productive/useful’ and leaving it to nature?

In terms of the balance of farming and wildlife, my feeling is that we need to view the role of the countryside through a very different lens to the one we have been viewing it through. The countryside provides many different things to us; from the food we eat and the employment we gain to our recreation and wellbeing, to other ‘ecosystem services’ including flood defence, carbon capture and of course for wildlife. We have become very efficient at food production, but this has been to the detriment of wildlife, where we have seen the catastrophic decline in species number and diversity since the industrial revolution. In order to halt this decline we need a fundamentally different set of priorities and management approaches for the countryside, that encourage and importantly fund wildlife friendly initiatives. Rewilding is, I believe, the best, most sustainable, most captivating and acceptable approach to wholescale land management for wildlife.

Productive agricultural land should, in my view, have food production as its main objective. However, I believe that marginal land, under a skewed farm subsidy model that pays for land to be farmed regardless of its productivity, should have a different value placed upon it, and should be (un)managed accordingly. A great example is our land at Sharpham. Many of the uplands, steep sided valleys and unproductive farmland could see a regeneration in wildlife that should be supported by a different farm subsidy model and diversified economies that would provide employment, bring people back to the countryside and connect people in a deeper way with nature. And whereby the cumulative benefit would be seen not just in increased wildlife, but in our collective effort to become carbon neutral with thriving ecosystems and connected communities. Our small project is part of this and with a public engagement agenda we hope to share these values with as wide an audience as we can so people can see the true, intrinsic value of nature and the role the countryside has on all our lives.

What is the greatest challenge of the project?

There are many challenges to our project, aside from the obvious and immediate Covid-19. Brexit will see a different relationship with the EU, and the ability of European trainees to study with us to share good practice and learn about rewilding across the continent may be compromised. The values I mentioned above should be supported under the new, post-Brexit ELMS farm subsidy scheme that will replace countryside stewardship in the coming years. However, as we enter a recession the budget available to support these initiatives may be reduced and turn landowners away from wildlife-friendly practices towards more intensive agriculture. These economic factors are very relevant to our long term aspirations and in inspiring and motivating other local landowners in joining the wildlife resistance.

The landscape at Sharpham that is being rewilded has a significant cultural and historic value already – it is an iconic landscape, set within the South Devon AONB and has a grade 2* listing for its historic importance, as well as a national cycle route passing through it. The changes we will see under the new rewilding regime will change the way this landscape will look and feel. Our initial work to restore the historic parkland aims to honour its heritage; our ongoing rewilding will give it a new and relevant role long into the future, and will be part of its story. We hope to be able to share this story so that people can see the value of it, and balance these different values.

We have learnt from the Knepp Estate (a large rewilding project in the east of the UK set on a lowland farm) some of the challenges that rewilding sites face. Indeed, in running our existing holding we have seen dog attacks on our livestock and littering, with livestock eating waste left by people enjoying the dramatic walks and views of the Dart Valley. Our mixed stocking will bring their own challenges when interacting with people, but we have measures in place to manage this risk. Newborn calves for example are very cute to look at, but their mothers can be very protective and feel any proximity to their offspring as a threat. We are definitely not taking these challenges lightly, however, we know that the majority of the public are aware of and respect the countryside.

The training scheme offers the trainees a great range of practical field skills and conservation experience. What advice would you give to a young (or not so young!) person who is wanting to get into conservation as a career?

Most of the employers we engage with say that that experience is key. This is however the challenge that prospective employees face – employers requiring experience and employees finding it increasingly difficult to gain valuable experience. I’d say keep going! Find creative ways to gain experience, whether it’s practicing your ID skills in your garden or out on walks. When you get the chance to apply or make it through to interview show enthusiasm, be genuine and authentic – the people interviewing you are human too – and try to use good, relevant examples to prove your passion. Also try to be true to yourself – if the job you are applying for isn’t necessarily the one you would hope to do long term, be honest with yourself about it, and don’t give up!!!

In the meantime, keep linked with job advertisers like Countryside Jobs Service and environmentjob and build your network on professional/social media platforms (like LinkedIn) with employers – nature conservation is a small world. Aim to use relevant examples related to the job advertised; even if the experience you’ve had is small, don’t big it up; be honest and, most importantly, detailed – tell employers exactly what you have done, when, where, for how long and who with. Also, don’t be afraid to ask employers what training they offer – they don’t need you to be the finished article but they want evidence of your awareness of the world and the role you’ve applied for and that you have adaptable skills and are willing to learn. Its become a cliché to an extent, but whereas your education will prove a level of understanding of your subject, what employers also want to know is how good you are at some of the softer skills like teamwork, flexibility, creativity, application and dedication, and having good examples of these to hand will be invaluable.

The post-Covid employment landscape will make job hunting even more challenging, so keep an eye on current government initiatives and any opportunities that may pop up over the next 12-18 months. The government has promised to invest in a green economic recovery and this may well see new training opportunities that could be the key to you gaining relevant experience.

Finally, have a look at our blog page. Here, members of the Ambios team offer more advice, support and top tips on how to get a career within the conservation sector.

Find out more about the Wild for People project on The Sharpham Trust website or connect with them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

For more information about Ambios Ltd, visit their website. They can also be found on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Enjoy a wonderful birdseye view of the Sharpham Estate as it currently exists today in the video below:

Bat Detecting for International Bat Night

The weekend of the 29th-30th August was the 24th International Bat Night. Organised by Eurobats, this annual celebration of bats saw events taking place all around the world in an effort to educate and inspire people about these fascinating flying mammals.

To mark International Bat Night, a small team from NHBS ventured out to an area of local woodland with a selection of bat detectors. The site we visited has been managed for the past two years by Steve and Tamara Davey, with the aim of maximising biodiversity. They are also ensuring the continued provision of habitat for certain species including seven recorded bat species, Nightjars and Woodcock. (Read more about how they are supporting nature in our recent interview or on the Woodland Wildlife website).

We arrived at the woods just before 7pm and were treated to a brief tour of the woodland as the light faded. Steve showed us the areas where the conifer plantation had been thinned, allowing more light to enter. In these areas there have already been increases in native plants and there were many seedlings present from native trees. He also showed us where he had planted a hedgerow boundary, with the intention of creating more commuting corridors for both bats and other wildlife. The second part of the woodland consisted of immature sitka spruce trees, some of which have now been cleared to make way for native trees, shrubs and plants.

In the two years that Steve and Tamara have been managing the site, the biodiversity of the plot has increased and the area is abundant with birds, small mammals and insects. Following advice from the Devon Greater Horseshoe Bat Project, they have also created three ponds, and this is where we spent most of our time on International Bat Night.

We used a selection of bat detectors including the Song Meter Mini static recorder, which was useful as it could be left to record while we kept our eyes on the skies watching bat movement and behaviour. We also used some handheld detectors including Magenta Bat 5s, an Anabat Scout and an Echo Meter Touch 2 which was extremely popular with the group due to the visual representation of the sound along with the incredibly useful auto-ID function.

During the evening we detected common pipistrelles, soprano pipistrelles, Noctules and Leisler’s as well as a suspected Nathusius’ pipistrelle and a Barbastelle that are awaiting ID confirmation from recorded files. Although the night was chilly, there were lots of moths and other flying insects that the bats were feeding on, and we enjoyed listening to pipistrelle feeding buzzes and watching them hunt and catch insects above us in the tree canopy.

The evening was extremely enjoyable and it was a great opportunity to see the work that Steve and Tamara have been doing on their land. The range of bat species we heard is testament to the quality of habitat that they have created and it was a great place to celebrate the 2020 International Bat Night.

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures. An interview with Merlin Sheldrake

Merlin Sheldrake is a biologist and a writer with a background in plant sciences, microbiology and ecology. He received a Ph.D. in tropical ecology from Cambridge University for his work on underground fungal networks in tropical forests in Panama.

Merlin’s just published book, Entangled Life explores the incredible world of fungi and how it has shaped and continues to influence the world we live in

Merlin Sheldrake and truffle

Merlin kindly agreed to answer our questions about his book and these incredible organisms.

Could you tell us a little about your background?

As an undergraduate I studied plant and microbial sciences. I then moved over into the humanities for my masters degree in the history and philosophy of science, where I focused on the history of Amazonian ethnobotany – the study of the relationships between humans and plants. I then shifted back into the sciences for my PhD, conducting research into the ecology of mycorrhizal fungi in tropical forests in Panama. There’s a strange disciplinary barrier between the sciences and the humanities which I’ve long found frustrating – and artificial – and for much of my education I’ve tried to find the places where it is less well-maintained and has become more porous.

Where did the motivation for this book come from?

Mycorrhizal fungi form symbiotic relationships with plants and can link plants together in shared networks sometimes known as the ‘wood wide web’. These fungi allowed the ancestors of plants to move out of freshwater and onto land, some 500 million years ago, and without them the planet would be unrecognisable. At school I had been taught to think of plants as autonomous individuals, but they turned out to be the product of a complex tangle of relationships: mycorrhizal fungi are a more ancient part of planthood than wood, leaves, flowers, or even roots. What we call plants are really algae that have evolved to farm fungi, and fungi that have evolved to farm algae – and this ancient relationship lies at the base of the food chains that sustain nearly all life on land. The more I studied these organisms and their intimate relationships, the more I realised that thinking about fungi makes the world look different. Entangled Life arose from this enquiry, and my sense of vertigo at the realisation that we’re only just beginning to understand this mind-bending kingdom of life.

Fungi appear to make decisions but has no ‘mind’ in the way we would understand. How can you best explain how ‘mycelial minds’ make sense of their environment?

Mushrooms are only the fruiting bodies of fungi: for the most part fungi live their lives as branching, fusing networks of tubular cells known as mycelium. Mycelial co-ordination is difficult to understand because there is no centre of control. If we cut off our head or stop our heart, we’re finished. A mycelial network has no head and no brain. Fungi, like plants, are decentralised organisms. Control is dispersed: mycelial co-ordination takes place both everywhere at once and nowhere in particular. These networks can sprawl over tens or even hundreds of metres and are subject to an unceasing flood of sensory information. And somehow, without a brain, fungi are able to integrate these many data streams, make decisions, and determine suitable courses of action. How they coordinate themselves remains a puzzle. There are a few options. Some researchers suggest that mycelial networks might transmit developmental cues using changes in pressure or flow – because mycelium is a continuous hydraulic network like a car’s braking system, a sudden change in pressure in one part could, in principle, be felt rapidly everywhere else. Some have observed that metabolic activity – such as the accumulation and release of compounds within hyphal compartments – can take place in regular pulses that could help to synchronise behaviour across a network. Others have found that the mycelium of some fungal species is electrically excitable and conducts spikes of electrical activity along hyphae, analogous to the electrical impulses in animal nerve cells, which could allow different parts of a network to stay in touch with themselves.

A common or shared mycorrhizal network seems to be a model for all ecology, yet outside of a few specialists is relatively under-researched and tends to be plant-centrist; why do you think is that is the case?

If you show someone a picture of a forest containing a jaguar and ask people to describe the image, most would describe the jaguar and say nothing about the bustle of plant life that makes up most of the scene. Our tendency to overlook plants in favour of animals has been termed ‘plant-blindness’. I think a similar phenomenon – fungus-blindness – sometimes plays out when we think about shared mycorrhizal networks. Plants are larger and easier for us to see and so our attention is naturally drawn to them. Plants are also more familiar units of life, which makes it easier for us to tell stories featuring them. Fungal networks are intuitively and conceptually slippery, and more difficult for us to make sense of.

Mycroremediation; the use of fungi to restore the biological health of soil has long been understood, but rarely used in large-scale applications. Do you think that will change in the future?

I hope so! Fungi are metabolic wizards with astonishing talents for breaking down stubborn substances, from lignin, wood’s toughest component, to rock, crude oil, polyurethane plastics and the explosive TNT. Despite its promise, however, mycoremediation is no simple fix. Just because a given fungal strain behaves in a certain way in a dish doesn’t mean it will do the same thing when introduced to the rumpus of a contaminated ecosystem. Fungi have needs – such as oxygen or additional food sources – that must be taken into account. Moreover, decomposition takes place in stages, achieved by a succession of fungi and bacteria, each able to pick up where the previous ones left off. It is naive to imagine that a lab-trained fungal strain will be able to hustle effectively in a new environment and remediate a site by itself. Some of the most promising applications of mycoremediation under development involve redirecting our waste streams so that material can be processed in fungal facilities before it hits the landfill. These approaches strike me as the most promising because they involve a larger scale re-evaluation of our dysfunctional philosophy of waste. By building systems in which fungi intercept pollutants before they spill into the environment we can start to deal with the causes of pollution rather than just the symptoms.

Some radical mycologists declare that ‘fungi can save the world!’ How credible do you think some of their claims are?

Fungi have been shaping the planet and its biospheres for over a billion years and will no doubt continue to do so. And there are certainly many ways that we might partner with fungi to help us to adapt to life on a damaged planet. As in any field that holds great promise there’s hype and some big claims floating around, some more credible than others. Then again, we don’t know nearly enough about fungi as we should. Their lives are endlessly surprising, and even many of their well-established behaviours and characteristics can seem incredible at first hearing.

Entangled Life has taken years of research and investigation. Allowing for a well-earned rest, have you any future projects you can tell us about?

I have plenty of studies to write up, and a number of research questions I’m exploring. I have yet to emerge from this tangled enquiry and don’t imagine that I will any time soon. Fungi have received a tiny fraction of the attention given to animals or plants and there are wide open questions whichever way one looks.


Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures
By: Merlin Sheldrake
Hardback | September 2020| £16.99 £20.00

An immersive trip into the largely unknown world of fungi, showing just how otherworldly and amazing this neglected group of organisms is.


All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.

An interview with Erica McAlister

Entomologist Erica McAlister is the senior curator for Diptera at the Natural History Museum, London. In 2017, she authored the very successful book The Secret Life of Flies which looked at their diverse lifestyles. Now she returns with The Inside out of Flies, which is a great popular science book marvelling at their anatomy.

We took the opportunity to ask her some questions about why flies matter to us all.

First off, tell us a little bit about how you got started. Why study flies? Having read your book now, I agree that they are fascinating and beautiful, but presumably, you did not know this when you started?

I have always been interested in nature, but I was more fascinated by the smaller creatures – the ones everyone else seemed to ignore. Insects were an obvious choice and I combined my love for them with my love of ecology from the beginning. Although I had worked with ants and beetles, it was the flies that properly tickled my fancy as they were the most diverse in life cycles and ecological function, and so the most interesting. They got everywhere, they did everything and they were wonderful to observe. I have a liking for all things natural – from decomposing dung heaps to parasitic lifestyles – both of which involve the fabulous flies.

You are quite involved in public outreach, speaking on radio programmes and giving public talks. Most people regard flies with a certain amount of disgust. Do you find it is easy to change people’s perceptions? 

Generally, yes. Most people just think about one or two examples of the thousands of species of flies such as the nuisance fliers or the transmitters of disease. So when I  tell them about the hoverflies, the bee flies, the chocolate pollinators, the forensic detectives, the scuba divers and so on, that opens up a whole new world to most people, and when I go on to talk about their gardens being alive with these beneficial creatures, you can see a change in many folks. Flies are animals and are essential for many ecosystems – it is odd that many naturalists seem to want to forget this!

The Inside Out of Flies spread 1After two decades of researching them, has your own attitude towards them changed?

Nope. In fact, I feel that I have got worse in my obsession with them as I realise that I have so much to learn and not enough time. Initially I was fascinated by their ecology, then their looks, then their behaviour, but there is also their genetics, their mechanics and many more other areas that we need to explore and understand. The more I have read and studied the more I realise that we have still so much to learn.

Your 2017 book The Secret Life of Flies was very well received. The design of your new book The Inside Out of Flies suggests it is a companion to the first book. Why write a second book?

Because there is so much more to write about them. We have thousands of books about mammals and there are just over 6100 of them. There are more flies in the UK than that and living in more extreme environments – the flies have adapted to all sorts of weird and wonderful habitats with a whole range of morphological changes to help them not just cope but thrive. The first book focused on their feeding ecology, this one is about their morphology, but there is still much, much more that I have left out from both of these subjects (I get emails all the time telling me so!)

The Inside Out of Flies spread 2You mention many people seem to think adult flies lack brains, this misconception being fuelled by watching them fly into windows again and again. This may seem like a very mundane question but why, indeed, do they do this?

This is a common question – but the answer is not really known. Firstly, the glass could be disorientating the flies as it blocks out UV-B which are used by the flies to help them navigate. The actual glass may be perceived as something different to them – they would realise that it was some form of wall due to the change in air currents, but we don’t know as yet what and presumably it could be multiple factors. There are many footprints of previous insects that have crawled across that pane and maybe there are hints about food sources (flies taste with their feet) that further distracts them. There is still so much about these creatures that we don’t know.

As you go through each body segment of a fly’s body in this book, you show that there is astounding variation in traits, and you back this up with some fantastic photography. One striking example was of a soldier fly species, Platyna hastata, whose abdomen is almost as wide as it is long, you affectionately call them fat-bottomed flies. Is this another example of sexual selection run rampant?

In flies – there are so many examples of extreme sexual selection and I discuss this throughout the book – from eyestalks to flags on their abdomen to hidden internal modifications. One of my favourites is the fly Drosophila bifurcata that has sperm that is 5.8 cm long and the actual adult male is but a few millimetres!

The Inside Out of Flies spread 3You explain how insect taxonomists use morphological details such as the position and numbers of hairs on their body to define species. I have not been involved in this sort of work myself, but I have always wondered, how stable are such characters? And on how many samples do you base your decisions before you decide they are robust and useful traits? Is there a risk of over-inflating species count because of variation in traits?

Ahhh there is the dilemma that many a taxonomist has faced – is it a true species??? The NHM collection has many thousands of species but often the specimen that the species was described from is the only specimen that anyone has of that species! Only time will tell if it is a true species. However, many of these characters are very stable with many of the bristle arrangements having been around for thousands of years. There is a risk of over-inflating species but then again there is a risk of under-inflating – and taxonomists fall into two groups – the splitters or the lumpers depending upon what they feel are important characters. What we do know for certain is that the sexually derived characters – the genital structures change at a faster rate and so this is why we appear to be obsessed with such things!

There are some fantastic examples in this book of the applied aspects coming out of dipterology as a field of study, with forensic entomology and miniature robotics being good examples. What are some of the most exciting applied developments that you think will make a splash in the near future?

Oh, what a question! I feel that we are on the cusp of many exciting developments – especially in aeronautics and medicine. Personally, I am loving the development of smart needles – the idea of bending these around sensitive structures is incredible and so very useful. But as technology develops so does our ability to look at these creatures and try to mimic their millennia-old adaptations.

The Inside Out of Flies spread 4
I imagine some aspects of entomology rely on decades- and centuries-old methods from when the field got started. Simultaneously, like most academic disciplines, the field has benefited from technological advances. How have new technologies changed how you work and the sorts of questions you ask? 

Yes, absolutely. I can ask so much more from the specimens in the collection at the Natural History Museum now, even though the flies may have been dead for hundreds of years. I can image them inside and out and in doing so I can see what pollen is in their guts or around their mouthparts; I can analyse their DNA and see how the populations developed or when insecticide resistance developed; and I can transfer all of this information around the world in seconds – no longer is research hindered by physical distance or financial constraints as much as it once was. And on a general level, I and many others have the resources of millions of people making observations and taking photos which massively adds to our knowledge. New technologies have made scientists out of all of us.

One of the more remarkable and little-appreciated things you draw attention to is that flies are an important group of pollinators worldwide. There has been much public concern regarding bees, pollination, and the future of our crops. Do we have reason to be concerned about the ecological function provided by pollinating flies?

We need to care about flies as much as all of the other insects that are more commonly talked about. Not only are the adults amazing pollinators but the larvae of many of these species are also carrying out key ecological roles such as predation or decomposition. And often it is only the flies that are the pollinators, especially in the more extreme habitats or crops. If you don’t look after the flies, you will find the world bereft of many food products that everyone loves such as chocolate.

Lastly, has the pandemic influenced your work and that of those around you? 

I would say yes. Hopefully, more people have realised how important the natural world is. I have spent the last couple of moths answering questions and identifying flies that folks would not have spent time observing before, and I have seen appreciation grow in all things fly. I think we have realised that we need to work more in balance with our environment and so the work that I, and millions of other entomologists undertake, is now seen with a new appreciation – we are not just going around looking at pretty flies, but are trying to help understand our climate and the impact the changes are having on it, our food security, and the impact of disease and vectors to name but a few examples.

The Inside Out of FliesThe Inside Out of Flies
By: Erica McAlister
Hardback | September 2020| £12.99 £14.99



All prices correct at the time of this article’s publication.

Oxford University Press: September Publisher of the Month

Oxford University Press are NHBS’s  Publisher of the Month for September.

Founded in the mid-17th Century, Oxford University Press (OUP) have published some of the most influential environmental books. Nearly 400 years later, OUP continue to release important works as the largest university press in the world.

Oxford University Press, highlights and forthcoming in 2020

We have great prices on selected bestselling professional and academic titles from OUP until 31st September and have showcased our top ten below:

Handbook of the Marine Fauna of North-West Europe
Edited by: Peter Joseph Hayward and John S Ryland
Paperback| Feb 2017| £42.99 £52.99
Authoritative guide to the accurate identification of the common components of the inshore benthic invertebrates of the British Isles and adjacent European coasts.

Essential Ornithology
By: Graham Scott
Paperback | September 2020| £27.99 £34.99
This concise introduction to ornithology returns in a second edition, highlighting new developments in the avian fossil record, urban ecology, and climate change.


The Biology of Soil: A Community and Ecosystem Approach
By: Richard D Bardgett
Paperback | September 2005| £34.99 £43.99
Part of the excellent Biology of Habitats Series  which provides information on the habitat, its biodiversity and the types of organisms present


The Sensory Ecology of Birds
By: Graham R Martin
Paperback | Feb 2017| £33.99 £36.99
Ranges widely across species, environments, and behaviours to present a synthesis that challenges previous assumptions about the information that controls the behaviour of birds.


Biology and Conservation of Musteloids
Edited by: David W Macdonald and  Christopher Newman
Paperback | Oct 2017| £37.99 £47.49
Suitable for graduate level students as well as professional researchers in musteloid and carnivore ecology and conservation biology.


Wildlife Conservation on Farmland (2-Volume Set)
Edited by: David W Macdonald and Ruth E Feber
Hardback | July 2015| £85.99 £107.50
Examines the most important challenges facing farmers, conservationists, and policy makers, using examples of real-life, linked studies from a farmed landscape


The Agricultural Revolution in Prehistory: Why Did Foragers Become Farmers?
By: Graeme Barker
Paperback | Jan 2009 | £44.99 £54.99
Addresses one of the most debated and least understood revolutions in the history of our species, the change from hunting and gathering to farming.


Bumblebees: Behaviour, Ecology, and Conservation
By: Dave Goulson
Paperback | Sept 2009 | £39.99 £50.99
An excellent review of bumble bee biology and behaviour by leading bumblebee biologist, Dave Goulson


Birds in the Ancient World: Winged Words
By: Jeremy Mynott
Paperback | April 2020 | £13.99 £16.99
The many different roles birds played in culture: as indicators of weather; for hunting, eating and  medicine; as pets and entertainments; and as omens and intermediaries between the gods and humankind.


Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
By: David Reich
Paperback | Feb 2019 | £8.99 £10.99
Ancient DNA is rewriting most of what we thought we knew about human history. David Reich explains what the genetics is telling us about ourselves and our complex and often surprising ancestry.


The Gratis Books Scheme

One of our most rewarding collaborations with OUP  has been the Gratis Books Scheme. Since 1999, with support and assistance from the British Ecological Society, this scheme has been sending free copies of books to conservationists in developing countries who would otherwise be unable to obtain them.

There are currently three books available in the Gratis Book Scheme, all from OUP. They are: Freshwater Ecology and Conservation,  Social Science Theory for Environmental Sustainability and A Practical Guide for Genetic Management of Fragmented Animal and Plant Populations.


Browse all Oxford University Press titles




This Week in Biodiversity News – 31st August

‘We’ve covered huge swathes of the UK in tarmac’: how roads affect birds. Rarer birds suffer the most from the network that criss-crosses the country, finds a new study, published in Nature Communications, but kerbside life appears to suit some. 

Madagascar giant frog is a new species, but also a deep-fried delicacy. Two species of giant frog in the genus Mantidactylus from Madagascar have attracted researchers’ attention for their very large size. Now, genetic sequencing has enabled scientists to identify a new member of the giant frog genus Mantidactylus. 

Tiny elephant shrew rediscovered in Africa after 50 years. A little-known mammal related to an elephant but as small as a mouse has been rediscovered in Africa after 50 years of obscurity. The creature was found alive and well in Djibouti, a country in the Horn of Africa, during a scientific expedition.

Newly published research, carried out by staff at BTO Scotland, has investigated the response to wintering waterbirds to drones, and shown that they can be easily scared into flight by drone use. Findings show behavioural responses of non-breeding waterbirds to drone approach are associated with flock size and habitat. You can read the results here.