COLIN POPE writes: WOODLAND walks are particularly inviting now autumn is upon us. Leaves start to turn colour, bushes are laden with berries and there is always a chance of spotting a red squirrel. We also begin to notice toadstools and other fungi emerging from the woodland floor. For those with an interest in fungi, woodlands are not the only place to spot them. Walkers on our downs are often surprised to see sometimes quite large and striking toadstools growing out of the grass.

Downland can be a good place for gathering mushrooms but be careful. Not all mushrooms are good to eat. One, in particular, is best avoided. This is the yellow-staining mushroom. It looks like the other mushrooms but when you rub the cap or cut through the stem, you will notice an intense chrome yellow colour developing. If you take them home to eat, once you start cooking them you will notice an unpleasant smell. Some people can eat them with no ill effects but for most people they cause intense gastro-intestinal upsets.

Sometimes you will find other what look like mushrooms growing on the downs but when you look under the cap you will see instead of having gills they have yellow spongy pores. These are boletes and there are different types. Some have striking red or yellow colours or turn blue when cut. Some are good to eat while others are poisonous. We usually find boletes in woodlands because they grow closely associated with the roots of trees, which benefits both the fungus and the tree. On the downs there may be no trees in the vicinity of boletes. However, they have a different woody host with which they grow. This is the rock rose, a small yellow-flowered bushy plant. If you find boletes on the downs, you are likely to find strands of rockrose entwined in the turf.

Downland is also a good place to see fairy rings of toadstools. Although the toadstools only appear for a short time their presence is visible throughout the year as a dark ring in the grass. The ring marks the line of active growth of the fungus. Fairy rings can survive for hundreds of years; the bigger the ring, the older is the fungus which makes it.