Fungus Foray With Dr Vin Fleming

Armed with bags, baskets and buckets of enthusiasm, a large group of foragers set out on Sunday keen to delve into the dark and often mysterious world of fungi. A lovely sunny afternoon greeted us and under the expert guidance of Dr Vin Fleming, we set off through the autumn undergrowth.

Dr Fleming began by setting younger foragers the challenge of finding the biggest and brightest fungi, but I think it fair to say that a general sense of competition ran through the entire group as parents, grand-parents, aunts and uncles set their sights on searching out the most spectacular of the fungus world.

And we weren’t disappointed. From creamy Giant Funnel Caps to the tiny but brilliantly green Parrot Waxcap and the delicate almost translucent parasol of the Pleated Ink Cap, around 40 species were found by more than 50 foragers in less than an hour – a spectacular result and a surprise for many to learn just what tiny treasures grow beneath our feet.

Dr Fleming regaled us with tales of shamanic rituals involving the striking but psychoactive red and white Amanita Muscaria – more commonly known as Fly Agaric. He demonstrated how the humble Puffball cleverly disperses its spores in the wind, and on our behalf he tasted the milk from an innocuous looking Lactarius Milk Cap only to report the flavour not dissimilar to battery acid.

On the subject of taste, the most common question posed to our expert was perhaps unsurprisingly: “Is it edible?” Dr Fleming was at pains to point out that eating fungi other than those bought at a supermarket is something best left to the highly trained, despite the temptations of a seemingly endless supply of free food.

But if we couldn’t eat them, we could definitely smell them and much joy was had discovering their perfume; from the pleasant essence of aniseed and cinnamon, to the less agreeable whiff of old laundry and raw potatoes. And for those able to identify the smell, it was reported that the odours of disused lift shafts, Russian leather and even bed bugs are not unusual bouquets to find among the fungi family!

This was a highly enjoyable, entertaining and educational event. As one young forager said: “I really loved it, next time I come to the Woods, I’ll be looking down at the ground as well as all around me!”

Words by Kate Starlling
Photographs by Esme Redshaw

Bourne Woods Needs You!

Bourne Woods Group set sights on achieving 500 volunteers by February 2015!

Did you know your local Woods are over 1,000 years old and once stretched as far as Northamptonshire? In 1086 the Woods were owned by Oger the Breton, a French knight with pots of money and bags of influence (despite sounding like a character from a children’s movie).

These days, the Woods are owned by the Forestry Commission and promoted by The Friends of Bourne Wood – a local community group with pots of enthusiasm and bags of energy, but in need of volunteers!

That’s why the Friends Group has identified a target of achieving 500 volunteers on their books by February 2015 and is actively seeking support from the local community. Group Secretary Sarah Roberts explains: “We were really disappointed to have to cancel our popular Santa in the Woods event this year, but we just can’t put these events on if we don’t have enough people to help on the day.

“What we’re looking for are people who are prepared to offer a few hours of their time just to help out at events. This could be anything from physical help putting up a marquee and lifting tables, to running stalls and guiding visitors. Our plan is to operate a rota system so volunteers will only need to help for a few hours on the day.”

The next major event in the Group’s calendar is an Easter activities day on 6th April with a trail through the Woods and other attractions currently in planning. If you can help and commit a few hours of your time for this and other events, you’ll be securing the future of the Woods and ensuring local residents continue to enjoy one of our most precious resources.

If you would like to put your name down and volunteer, please complete the form on our contact us page. And if you’re still not sure, take a look at the Q&A put together by the Friends of Bourne Wood.

A final word from Sarah Roberts: “We have lots of ideas for events next year but are always delighted to receive suggestions, donations and offers of support in addition to volunteers. If you run or work for a local business and can contribute to our community events in other ways, please get in touch. We look forward to welcoming you as a Friend of Bourne Woods!”

Friends 500 Q&A

Are you building an army? Why do you need so many people?

Our main focus is to create a ‘pool’ of people who we can call on to help us run our major events. Believe it or not, some events need up to 50 volunteers to run smoothly and sometimes we have to cancel popular activities (like this year’s Santa in the Woods) because we just don’t have enough people to call on. There are currently around 100 Friends in the Group, but experience tells us we need to register many more to stand a chance of staffing major events. This is because our events tend to coincide with holiday periods, so the more people we have to call on, the greater chance we have of staging popular events.

How much time do I need to dedicate as an event volunteer?

Our major events can run for a whole day or half a day, but we aim to split the time into slots for volunteers, so we won’t need to ask you to do more than two or three hours. Events are nearly always at weekends or bank holidays.

What kind of work will I be doing?

It depends on the event, but we need strong people to help erect the marquee and carry things, people to run craft and food stalls for example, people to direct visitors, and people to help set up and clear away anything related to the event.

What happens if it rains?

We’ll carry on and hope the sun comes out! It’s a good idea to bring waterproofs and wellies just in case.

Will I get paid?

No, I’m afraid not. The Friends of Bourne Wood is an entirely voluntary group with no funding for wages. However, we can guarantee you’ll leave feeling as though you’ve contributed to something valuable, and you’ll have enjoyed yourself and met new people too.

Why do you need to run events in the first place?

We believe our events help encourage people to come into the Woods who might otherwise not use them. It’s our way of promoting the Woods as widely as possible and raising much-needed funds. We are a non-profit group, so any money we make from events goes straight back into projects and other events in the Woods.

What’s so special about the Woods?

Bourne Woods is an ancient site full of important flora and fauna. In the UK, about 10% of our landscape is made up of wooded areas; this is much less than the European average of 44% so it’s important to protect what we have left. The Woods are home to a huge range of insects, animals, trees, plants and wild flowers and now houses a community orchard of over 70 mixed fruit trees. Woodland benefits everyone in terms of health, education, recreation and conservation and we are lucky in Bourne to have such an accessible and beautiful wooded area on our doorstep.

How old do I have to be to volunteer?

The minimum age is 18, but we’re happy to discuss school or college volunteer projects on an individual basis