Home » Woods » Frosty Meadering around Markstakes Common looking for ancient trees and frosted fungi

Frosty Meadering around Markstakes Common looking for ancient trees and frosted fungi


It feels like this should be my fiftieth visit to Markstakes Common so I’m going to call it that. I’ve been coming here since late April/early May – not every week, and some weeks several times. I’m also a Friend of Markstakes Common’ so weather permitting I do some scrub clearing work with others for a few hours every Monday morning. Every walk I record on AllTrails as an aide-memoire to where I stop and what I find – I still struggle often to find gems I’d spotted early. One moss covered tree trunk can look very much like another. 

My interest comes from the number and variety of ancient and veteran trees in such a small space, the variety of ecosystems and its relevant proximity to Lewes (six miles to the south). 

I’m going on a tree hunt

A decade ago a number of surveys were carried out mapping the habitats and identifying 38 notable, ancient or veteran trees. I have surely seen them all by now, and can find 20 or so of them with relative ease. Some have remained elusive however because they can be amongst other trees of a similar type and generation so picking one out as different to the others can be tricky – more so through spring, summer and autumn when the canopy is dense and the understory dark and the tree’s silhouette hidden. I hope to tick them all off by spring. I feel, after months of struggling to get close or even pick it out in a busy canopy, that I have identified the Ash. 

No.1 Ash 3-Stemmed 

I’m less certain amongst the hornbeams in the lower (southerly) part of the wood because there are over a dozen mature/old looking hornbeams, some companion trees or with companion trees, surrounded in holly, or with bits fallen off them. A few times I have wondered if the tree I am looking for has been flat across the floor for a decade … 

As well as finding them on the map, I am photographing the tree in various ways: vertical panoramic, wide shots and close-ups of features, and a slow pan video of 20-30 seconds. Part of me feels I could be doing this to record a wood that could be gone in a few decades – we shall see. It coped rather well in the drought (though one person having a barbecue could have put paid to that).

Foraging with a camera

Fungi became the next interest in late summer and through autumn. The foraging instinct has until now been a spring thing looking for wild garlic. This year we also collected a lot of sweet chestnuts. I collect very little of what I come across preferring to photograph the fungus, using the PictureThis Mushrooms App, and once home digging through my two Collin’s Fungi Field Guides . I am ‘getting the picture’ in the most general of ways – of course I know and am told that ‘my’ fungus could as likely be one of several similar looking species. But you have to start somewhere.

Today I returned to old friends to assess their state after the hard frost: hairy curtain crust, crowded parchment, sulphur tuft , birch polypore, wood ears and King Alfred’s cakes …

As Markstakes Common is the responsibility of Lewes District Council I can talk to my fellow Green Councillors about the management of the woods and common. Compared to other spaces it is deliberately not invasive: unless they fall over a recognised path the trunk or fallen branch is left where it fell. I’ve seen trees that I am told fell in February denses invaded by a variety of fungi by late October. 

We have eaten those fungi that clearly will not kill us! Wood mushroom, porcelain mushroom, puffball and jelly ear. It still freaks me out and I’m aware of the risks and touch nothing that might be seriously toxic. 

Now that I know where certain fungi can be found it intrigues me to see what will happen in a frost: jelly ear broken down, sulphur tuft gone from a bright mustard-yellow of dark leather brown in a few days … the birch polypores and King Alfred’s cakes shaking it off. 

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