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About Me

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I have been interested in nature for most of my life but since I retired I spend as much time as I can exploring the nature reserves and wildlife hotspots of my adopted home, Dorset in southern England. Whilst out I record what I see and take snaps where I can (I am no photographer!) and that forms the basis of my Nature of Dorset website. When I find something new I like to research it and write about it in my nature notes, it is how I learn and hopefully you might find my notes helpful as well!

This website is for the people of Dorset interested in wildlife and for people from elsewhere interested in the wildlife of Dorset!

31 January, 2012

Lichen (Solenospera candicans)

It is hard to believe this lichen is, truly, a living organism; it looks just like a patch of chalk! It is an abundant lichen on hard calcareous rocks, just like we have here on most of the Dorset coast but nationally it is not common.
It forms these white/grey circular patches with a cracked centre. Often these can grow together to form large, crusty patches covering the entire rock substrate making it look as though it has been smothered in chalk dust.
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Lichen (Hypogymnia physodes)

This a lichen species that is not affected by pollution at all and can grow just about anywhere, even in parks in cities! It is very common on tree branches and twigs, rocks, walls, even soil.
It can form large, condensed patches of these 'fingery' grey or, sometimes, grey-green lobes or thallus. The underside is much darker being brown at the edges becoming darker still towards the centre.
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Lichen (Lecanora chlarotera)

A smooothish, grey background (the thallus) with reddish brown discs (the apothecia) growing on tree bark indicates that this is almost certainly Lecanora chlarotera.
This is a very common lichen across the country with the exception of the south east and the industrial midalnds as it is not able to tollerate polluted environments.
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Lichen (Caloplaca heppiana)

Lichens are a headache for me when it comes to naming them. I think they are fascinating organisms but have they a structure and accompanying language of their own which I struggle to undertsand! There are several of these orange, crusty ones so I have to use all the powers of deduction I have to try and make an educated assessment of what each is nad, as far as I can tell, this is Caloplaca heppiana.
C. heppiana is very common on calcareous rocks rather than bricks (see Candelariella aurella) and forms even, closely compressed oval shapes with large orange disks in the centre. More orange in colour than Xanthoria periatina which is also very common but more so wood substrates. Telling it apart from Caloplaca saxicola is more difficult but I that seems to grow in to a larger, less even shape.
So, for me, this has to be Cladonia heppiana but do tell me if you think I am wrong!
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Lichen (Cladonia cervicornis)

Despite first impressions, the Dorset heath, particularly here in the Purbeck area where I live, is not the monotinous monoculture of heather and gorse as it first appears. There are varied habitats within even a fairly small area if you look. In places, where the ground is quite bare, lichens grow readily amongst the mosses and that is where you might find Cladonia cervicornis.

According to the expert, Frank Dobson, in his authorative guide 'Lichens: An Illustrated Guide' which is still the foremost book on lichen and first published in 1979 (my copy dates from 1981!) this is "a common species nationally and is common on acid heaths, stabilised shingle, rocks, etc.". Personally I find that a little ambiguous as those habitats are not common nationally so how can a lichen that thrives in those habitats be common nationally?

Anyway, it is not uncommon here and can be found on the peat soils of the heath; on sunny days the reverse side looking quite silvery in the sun.

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27 January, 2012

Lichen (Placynthium nigrum)

I know lichen are an aquired taste and people in general prefer the more exotic flowers such as orchids or the more dramatic animals such as birds and I do try an enthse people with these lower organisms which are all too often over looked but I can find little say in support of Placynthium nigrum!

It is a dull, black crust that grows on hard calcarious substrates and so is very common on walls and tombstones. Apart from being black and crusty there is little else one can add really! Looking at it, it is hard to believe it is actually a living thing, it could just be some sort of powder someone dropped accidentally. However, it is a living organism and if you look at under maginifaction it is more interesting. Why not take a look?

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Lichen (Lecanora conizaeoides)

This is a lichen we will all have seen but only those with a particular interest will have taken any notice of or given any thought to! Not only is it totally nsignificant to look at it has a very difficult name to say, let alone remember, it is Lecanora conizaeoides.

This does not look like anything other than some boring crusty skin but it is a lichen and is probably our most common lichen at that. Found on tree bark, it is probably most notable on oak trees and there can hardly be an oak tree in Dorset that does not bear some of this lichen on it somewhere. Iy does also occur on walls, racks and even soil.

This was once a very rare species but during the course of the twentieth century it became one of the most common as it is totally impervious to sulphur dioxide and so thrives in polluted areas where it has replaced other lichen that have dwindled.

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Lichen (Ramalina farinacea)

Ramalina farinacea is one of the most tolerant on lichen species to air polution and, as a result, grows just about anywhere and is one of our more common lichens. In more poluted areas its growth can be stunted but here in Dorset we get lovely 'flowering' specimens, especially near the sea.

This is mainly a wwod-based lichen growing on the bark of trees and shrubs and around Poole Harbour you can see Blackthorn absolutely covered in it; an amazing site. The best place I know is at Swineham Point on tthe Wareham channel.

It does grow on rocks too but much is much less common on the rocky sea shore where it gives way to a couple of its close relatives.

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24 January, 2012

Lichen (Cladonia coniocraea)

Whilst many Cladonia species of lichen produce cups this one, Cladonia coniocraea produces simple tube-like structure from which to release its spores. These tubes often bend over at the tops.
The lichen itself is a similar grey/green scaly fomation like its close cousins fimbriata and pyxidata but this one had a particular preference for rotting wood and is not usually found on soil or amongst moss, other than moss growing on rotting timbers of course!
This is one of the few Cladonia species that is resistant to pollution and often it is the only Cladonia to be found in wooded areas in towns and cities. It is very commo everywhere but easily overlooked.

Lichen (Cladonia fimbriata)

The 'golf tee' shape fruiting bodies are indicative of the Cladonia lichens and various species can be found on Dorset heathland and in woodland. Fimbriata favours rotting tree stumps and bare earth where the crusty foudation of the lichen covers the surface and the 'pegs' shoot up from that.

On fimbriata the stem of the peg is very slender before opening out into the cup, its very close relative, Cladonia pyxidata, has much a much more cone like shape.

Quite common yet usually passed by wothout a second look which is a shame as closer inspoection shows them to be fascinating.

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Lichen (Cladonia pyxidata)

When walking on heathland you often find amongst the heathers a patch where grass and moss becomes dominant and, amongst the moss, you may find these small golf tees sticking up.

The 'golf tees' are fairly typical fruiting bodies of the Cladonia genus of lichens and there are a number of species, some more common than others. In drier areas then pyxidata is the most likely to be found. Pyxidata is a common species and is also identifiable by the brown rim to its cups, these are the actual places the spores are produced from.

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22 January, 2012

Lichen (Candelariella aurella)

Here is a common site on brick buildings and walls as well as on roofing tiles and even roofing felt, Candelariella aurella. This is a mustard coloured lichen that grows outwards in a oval shape, gradually expanding in size as it grows. Once it gets established those dish-shaped discs appear which are the fruiting bodies from which the tiniest of spores are released.

It does no harm to its substrate (or the building in general) but it is tempting to clean it off which is a shame as it is easy to forget it is a living organism that takes years to grow to any size. In any event, it is so successful in its environment you will soon have some more to replace it.

It is very common in the south (and so it is in Dorset) and east of England as it is relatively polution tolerant. There are a couple of other similar species but they are less common on brickwork.

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21 January, 2012

Lichen (Lecidella eleaochroma)

I always think that this lichen looks like a child has been drawing with a pencil on the bark of the tree (purely as my drawing ability is so poor and it looks my attempt at drawing but would not want anyone to know!). The lichen forms a crust on the bark of a tree and have blackish edges which merge together to form a larger mass giving the impression continuous wiggly lines. In the centre of each distinct area there are black specs, some more pronounced than others.
Pretty common in south western Britain it grows on all kinds of trees and also on fences. It shows up best on the light coloured, smooth bark of willows and Sallow as well as Silver Birch. It is quite common if you take the trouble to look for it!
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Lichen (Opegrapha atra)

Lichen (Opegrapha atra) by Peter Orchard
Lichen (Opegrapha atra), a photo by Peter Orchard on Flickr.

Pale, smooth barked trees often have pale grey or greenish patches with little black specs in the middle of them. This is not a bark blemish but a living lichen.
Called Opegrapha atra it is the commonest of the family of six British species and possibly the easiest to identify becuase of these patches that enclose the central speeckled marks. Silver birch and members of the willow family are the favoured host trees for atra but it also, very occassionally, occurs on fence posts too.
Not much to look at perhaps but nice to know what it is when you see it all the same!
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Lichen (Graphis scripta)

Until I happened to be looking for a lichen I had seen in my reference book and stumbled across something called Graphis scripta I had always assumed that the black marks you often see on Silver Birch bark were just blemishes in the bark itself! How wrong I was.

These black marks or, indeed, a lichen that is common on smooth barked trees but it shows up best against the pale coloured silver birch.

Common across the country, as well as Dorset, it has a close cousin, Graphis elegans, and they are very hard to tell apart but I believe this to be scripta but if you think I am wrong please let me know!

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18 January, 2012

Fungus (Panaeolus sphinctrinus)

They may not be everyone's cup of tea but fungi really are an interesting aspect of nature. Fungi serve a vital role in breaking down waste and returning materials to the soil where they can be re-used and this is often wood which it helps rot down but not always. Panaeolus sphinctrinus (no commmon name, sorry!) specialises in recycling animal dung.

It has a distinct life cycle (which it shares with some other fungi species) where it thrives in animal dung helping break it down and returning it to the soil. From the mycelium that are performing this function it produces the fruiting bodies (the cap that we see) and the spores from the cap fall on to the ground amongst the grass. Animals come along grazing and eat the spores along with the grass, the spores pass through the gut and are ejected inside the dung where the fungus starts to break it down! Incredible when you think that once a cow-pat, for example, has been totally broken down by the fungus, the fungus will die because it has nothing left to consume so it is dependant on a new cow-pat being generated to continue its survival through its spores. Without the fungus (and other creatures of course) there would be heaps of dung so the fungus is essential in maintaining an equilibrium. However, it cannot totally rid us of dung as it needs more to survive.

That is the wonder of nature.

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17 January, 2012

Candle Snuff Fungus (Xylaria hypoxylon)

I suppose that when we think of fungi we immediately have a picture of the classic mushroom shape, a round cap resting on a short stipe. Many fungi are, indeed, that shape, hence the nick-name of toadstool because they look like a stool and one that is low enough for a toad to sit on! In reality fungi take various forms in terms of their fruiting bodies and this one, commonly known as Candle Snuff, is certainly living proof of that.

It is easy to see why it is called candle-snuff because it does have the appearance of burnt candle wick and, when a few days old, it can be quite powdey too, just like candle snuff.

This is a very common species that can be found all year on dead wood but it is quite small and easily overlooked unless you take time to inspect dead branches and tree stumps that you encounter. It is not edible of course, it is too powdery and not big enough to justify making a meal out of it.
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Find out more about the nature of Dorset at my website www.natureofdorset.co.uk

16 January, 2012

Shepherd's-purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)

This is a tough little character! Even in the depths of winter you can find Shepherd's-purse in flower. I have no idea what pollenates it at such a difficult time of year for insects but somehow it must be worth this plant flowering.

Normally a weed of cultivation it thrives in gardens, field edges and areas of disturbed earth but it can also grow where there is minimal soil and can be found in roadside gutters and drains and in other bare, waste places. I have even seen it growing on concrete.

The size of the plant does vary considerably, the harsher the conditions the smaller it is, but in summer and in favoiurable soil it can grow to be quite a strong plant.

It is called Shepherd's-purse because the seeds are heart-shaped and look like little purses and this is one of the easiest ways to identify this species. It is a member of the cabbage family (crucifereae) with tiny flowers but the seed 'purses' are much more visible.
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15 January, 2012

Jew's Ear Fungus (Auricularia auricula-judae)

The scientific name of the this strange fungus is auricula-judae which means "like a Jew's ear". These days however, it seems this description is not politically correct and so I hear it now being referred to as Jelly-ear Fungus instead. The Latin scientific name remains the same.
Whilst most common, like many fungi, in the autumn you can find Jelly-ear all year road growing a various types of soft wood but it has a particular preference for Elder.
Very common and edible too, what's for breakfast?
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14 January, 2012

Cramp Ball (Daldinia concentrica)

These black, crusty balls that appear on dead twigs and branches are also commonly known as King Alfred's Cakes. It is not hard to see why but if this what the cakes looked like after Alfred neglected them then I am pretty sure his wife(?) would have been pretty livid!

I have no idea why they are called cramp balls however, medical connection perhaps?

Cramp balls do not really look like a fungus. They don't look like anything else really! Just round and, at first brown, but soon shiny black coloured. If you cut one in half you will find silver coloured concentric rings inside - concentrica.

Common on dead Ash and Beech and so common throughout Dorset. Not edible, I think you might break a few teeth if you tried!
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13 January, 2012

Earth Fan (Thelephora terrestris)

If you trudge across heathland or through conifer woods in the late summer through to early winter you may well encounter this common fungus, the Earth Fan.

It is easily missed because the 'fans' can look just like dead leaves and in any event always look like a dead fungus! The dull brown withered appearance does give the impression they are past their best!

There are a bit unusual though as they are a bracket type of fungus and one usually associates brackets with dead trees and stumps so to find one growing on the ground and out of earth is not what one expects.

They are not edible but then they look very dry and withered I am sure no one would fancy trying them anyway!
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12 January, 2012

Common Earth Ball (Scleroderma citrinum)

This is a common autumn fungus found on the Dorset heath where the soil is mossy, peaty and sandy.

At first glance it could be mistaken for the familiar puff ball but, on closer inspection, the surface of the ball is much more scaly, indeed almost ridged. When fresh the appearance is quite light in colour but as it ages it turns a distinct yellow which is probarbly where its scientific name of 'citrinum' comes from, citrus coloured.

The spherical dome acts in a similar way to a puff ball but instead of small funnel at the top for the spores to emerge from the Common Earth Ball splits open to release its spores.

Not edible becuase it only has spores inside, very little flesh.
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11 January, 2012

Devil's Matchsticks Lichen (Cladonia floerkeana)

Despite being sensitive to air polution lichens are one of our most diverse and widespread life forms and whilst declining in eastern areas they still strive in the west and here in Dorset there are many of them.

Lichens are specialists. Some species use rocks, walls, roof tiles and gravestones as their substrate, others prefer wood and colonise tree trunks and branches, fence posts and wooden buildings. There is also a family of lichen, the Cladonia species where some members colonise bare ground and this one, Cladonia floerkeana is one of those.

Supposedly common on peaty soils on moors and heaths I have only found it once on the Dorset heath but there is quite a lot of heath in Dorset to look at so I am sure I have often missed it.

This species has thin stems with bright red spore producing tips giving them the appearance of matches, hence the common name of Devil's Matchsticks!
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10 January, 2012

Tawney Grisette (Amanita fulva)

I like it when a fungus has a feature that is just about unmistakable! A fungus can be so difficult to identify without perhaps picking it, smelling it, taking it home and getting a spore print (leaving the cap on white paper over night and seeing the pattern of the spores on the paper in the morning) and examining the spores under a microscope! From just plain appearances it can be very difficult sometimes for the casual enthusiast to identify species that one finds whilst walking in woodland in autumn.

The key to the Tawney Grisette are those white lines running from the edge of the cap inwards towards the more darker colouring in the middle. Once you see that you've got it!

The Tawney Grisette is a common species in mixed woodland in autumn and since first getting to grips with it last autumn I have found it in three coniferous plantations on heath around the Wareham area so I am pretty sure it is widespread throughout the district. Although it is an Amanita (along with the Death Cap and Destroying Angel) it is actually edible if you really want to give it a try! I'll pass if that's OK ...
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09 January, 2012

Hairy Stereum (Stereum hirsutum)

If you look at tree stumps, logs and fallen branches of deciduous trees (as I like to do) you will often find bracket fungi growing on them. In some cases the fungus will have got in to the tree whilst still alive and killed it, in others the fungus colonises the dead wood and has started the rotting process which will eventually see it return to just plain earth. The Hairy Stereum fungus is one of the latter.

Hairy Stereum is very common, indeed one of the most common fungi you will find. Along with Many-zoned Polypore it accounts for something like two-thirds of all bracket fungi specimens you will encounter. It can be told from Many-zoned Polypore, however, by the dustincly yellowish appearance when the bracket is first emerging as a fruiting body. It is a bit harder to tell them appart when they have done their job of releasing spores and have dried up.

I have no idea why it is called 'hairy', the book I have does not describe any obvious 'hairy' feature but then, that is common names for you!

Found all year round, do not bother to try eating it, it is as tough as old boots and best left alone!
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08 January, 2012

Common Yellow Russula (Russula ochroleuca)

The Common Yellow Russula is a familar sight on any Dorset woodland floor in Autumn as it grows amongst the leaf litter in both coniferous and deciduous woods. Once I put a name to it I then started to encounter it just about everywhere. Although solitary by nature, rather than gregarious in troops or circles, once you find one you will generally find many others in the same area.

As usual, it seems, the common name is not really helpful because it is not yellow as some fungi are; truly yellow I mean, it is more ochre in colour. However, the ochre colour makes sense of the scientific name of Russula ochorleuca - ochre-leucent!

When the cap first appears it is curved in shape, it gradually flattens out leaving a little dimple in the middle but also revealing the gills around the edges.

My book says it's an edible species but the specimens I have found are usually already in decay and do bot look in least appetising.
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Find out more about the nature of Dorset at my website www.natureofdorset.co.uk

07 January, 2012

Clouded Agaric (Clitocybe nebularis)

Common names can be so confusing! This is the Clouded Agaric and so you might reasonably think that it is related to the more distinctive red-capped Fly Agaric but no, totally different families. The Fly Agaric is an Amanita whereas the Clouded Agaric is a Clitocybe. Just to add to the confusion, Agaric comes from Agaricus which is the familiy name of fungi we know as edible mushrooms so neither the Fly or Clouded are Agarics at all ...

The Clouded Agaric is pretty common, especially here in Purbeck, as it thrives in both deciduous and coniferous woodland and is quite at home amongst the conifers in and around Wareham Forest. It usually appears in troops, or possibly as a ring. The cap is slightly convex at first and gradually flattens and then becomes concave. The cap is a milky grey in colour, often darker in the centre. The cap can vary in size from a couple of inches in diameter to six inches or even more.

Supposedly edible but apparently it is known to cause gastric upsets so another species left well alone for others to see and enjoy.

06 January, 2012

Cep (Boletus edulis)

Cep (Boletus edulis) by Peter Orchard
Cep (Boletus edulis), a photo by Peter Orchard on Flickr.

Cep is the common name of Boletus edulis but it also has the local name in England of Penny Bun, the cap looking much like a traditional bakers bun!

Cep is common in woodlands during the summer and in to late autumn occurring in both coniferous or broad leaved environments.

In this country we are used to buying varieties of mushrooms in our shop but in continental Europe Cep is much more likely to be seen on sale in markets and shops. It is, however, widely grown in this country for use as a flavouring for soups.
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Find out more about the nature of Dorset at my website www.natureofdorset.co.uk

04 January, 2012

Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)

This must surely be the quintessential toadstool! Even if you have never seen one in the 'wild' you will have seen this fungus in children's books and cartoons; it is, of course, where fairies and other strange things live.

The Fly Agaric is quite unique in appearance being the only really red fungus, especially one with white spots on it. They are not white spots as such, but remnants of the outer casing that existed as the fruiting body emerged from the ground.

This is quite common in the birch woods of Dorset as it has an affinity with birch. You can find it in September and October and possibly even in to November.

The red appearance might imply danger! You might think this deadly poisonous like other members of the amanita family but is not. That said, this is the famous 'magic mushroom' and is hallucinatory and can make you quite sick so it really is best left to the fairies!

Blackening Wax Cap (Hygrocybe nigrescens)

A conical shaped toadstall emerging from grass displaying a distinctly shining surface to the cap indicates a wax cap or Hygrocybe species.

This one, found up on the Purbeck Ridge in early autumn, is indeed a wax cap. It starts off with this beautiful maroon coloured cap but it quickly ages and becomes black and so has earned itself the common name of the Blackening Wax Cap.

No wax cap is particularly common which always makes finding one a bit special and this one is described in my guide as being 'occassional'. There were only a couple appearing in the rough pasture up on the ridge which would seem to be the ideal sort of place to find them. I have also seen the in Kent, above the white cliffs but that doesn't count in the nature of Dorset!

Supposedly edible but only if picked when newly emerging but surely best left alone to display their early beauty to others?

02 January, 2012

Meadow Wax Cap (Hygrocybe pratensis)

One of the more common wax caps, the Meadow Wax Cap starts with the familiar conical shape that most wax caps start with but it opens up beyond this so that the edges start to turn upwards creating a wavy edge. You can still see the top of the original cone in the centre.

With a lovely soft brown colouring and waxy finish to the top of the cap the Meadow Wax Cap is an attractive fungus and it is, apparently, good to eat too!

Found in the autumn like most fungi, the Meadow Wax Cap is usually in pasture and so lives up to its common name. It's scientific name is pratensis which means 'of pasture'.

Wax Cap Fungus (Hygrocybe spadicea)

The wax cap fungi belong to a family called 'Hygrocybe'. In their early stages specimens of this family often start with this distinctive conical shape and the cap is generally shiny giving the familiar name of wax cap.

Wax caps, in general, are not common and this particular species which I found at Durlston this autumn (2011) is decidedly uncommon being found only in pastures on limestone or basalt. Pasture on limestone is exactly what you find on the Dorset coast.

I have no idea whether it is edible but as it is such an attractive toadstool I think it is better left for others to see rather than to pick it for the table, there are plenty of mushrooms in your local supermarket to eat!

01 January, 2012

Parrot Wax Cap (Hygrocybe psittacina)

Amongst fungi enthusiasts I guess wax caps are the inequivalent orchids to botanists and raptors to bird watchers. I have no idea why this is called the Parrot toadstool or wax cap. The bright colour perhaps?

I find fungi in general hard to identify so a distinctive one comes as a bonus. The bright yellow colour and waxy finish to the cap make this quite distinctive although there are a couple of similar close relatives but they seem to be much, much rarer.

The Parrot Wax Cap is not uncommon, described by Roger Phillips as 'occasional', and is found on grassy areas on downs and on heaths which ties in with the two places I found it this year, Hartland Moor (heath) and Durlston (downs).

Apparently an edible toadstool but it a bit unpleasant as it tastes as slimy as it looks.