Gnats a first! Fly and fungus finds flabbergast naturalists
PR & communications officer - Scotland
A rare rainforest fungus and two tiny fly species never before seen in the UK have been discovered at Woodland Trust Scotland sites on the West coast.
An insect survey at Loch Arkaig Pine Forest in Lochaber has recorded two species of fungus gnat previously unseen in Britain. While at Dunollie Wood in Argyll local naturalists found hazel gloves fungus.
Fungus gnats at Loch Arkaig Pine Forest near Spean Bridge
Fungus gnats are a large group of tiny flies whose larvae feed on mushrooms and fungi.
Boletina gusakovae is more usually found in Finland and Russia, and Mycetophila idonea in Estonia, Poland, Slovakia, Georgia and Luxembourg.
“My guess is that these two have always been here, or at least for a long time, but just not found before,” said surveyor Ian Strachan.
Credit: Ian Strachan
The insects were captured in 2018 using Malaise traps – which look a little like a backpacker’s tent, and funnel flying insects into a collection jar. Two traps were in place over four months. It is a massive task to separate all the individual insects caught. Ian is still painstakingly separating out the samples and taking advice from a dozen different experts to help with identifications.
The new-to-Britain flies were represented by just one male of each species, out of over 1,500 fungus gnats Ian had in turn separated out from tens of thousands of other insects in the sample.
“This was a very exciting find. It makes all the hours of sorting seem worthwhile,” he said.
Ian, who lives near Roy Bridge has sorted through some 20,000 specimens from the Loch Arkaig traps so far – using a binocular microscope as most are less than 1mm in size. A considerable number of specimens remain to be sorted and/or identified.
“It is a very laborious process. It could be several years before all the species are identified – but I am determined to get as many as possible done,” he said.
Woodland Trust Scotland has partnered with Arkaig Community Forest – a local community-based charity, which shares ambitious plans to restore native woodland habitats across the entire forest and demonstrate the ecological, social and economic value of ancient woodland restoration. In particular, we aim to support the remote community living around the forest to benefit from active sustainable forest management activities such as woodfuel production, eco-tourism and adding value to timber.
Hazel gloves fungus at Dunollie Wood in Oban
The hazel gloves fungus was spotted by retired Countryside Ranger Richard Wesley from Cullipool on the Isle of Luing, during a recent visit to Dunollie Wood by Lorn Natural History Group.
“After resting on a log, I looked down and to my surprise spotted a windblown twig with a small sample of hazel gloves, as though it had been placed there for me to find,” said Richard.
The group then set about searching the area for more substantial examples. Cynthia Grindley and Noelle Odling found the fungus on two standing trees. Woodland Trust Scotland staff subsequently identified hazel gloves at two further spots.
Credit: Jan Hamilton / Lorn Natural History Group
Hypocreopsis rhododendri, the hazel gloves fungus, is a priority species on the UK Biodiversity Acton Plan and Scottish Biodiversity List.
“Hazel glove is an indicator of high quality temperate rainforest so we are really pleased it has been identified at Dunollie Wood,” said George Anderson of Woodland Trust Scotland. “It might surprise a lot of people to know that Oban is a town with a rainforest at its back.
“Last year we formed the Atlantic Woodland Alliance, a partnership with other landowners, community and conservation groups which aims to secure a better future for this dwindling habitat.
"Scotland's rainforest is just as lush and just as important as tropical rainforest, but is even rarer.
"It is found along the west coast and on the inner isles and is a unique habitat of ancient native oak, birch, ash, pine and hazel woodlands and includes open glades and river gorges.
"Our rainforest relies on mild, wet and clean air coming in off the Atlantic, and is garlanded with a spectacular array of lichens, fungi, mosses, liverworts and ferns.
"Many are nationally and globally rare and some are found nowhere else in the world."
Notes to editors
For further information contact George Anderson on 07770 700631.
The Woodland Trust is the largest woodland conservation charity in the UK. It has over 500,000 supporters. It wants to see a UK rich in native woods and trees for people and wildlife.
The Trust has three key aims:
- protect ancient woodland which is rare, unique and irreplaceable
- restoration of damaged ancient woodland, bringing precious pieces of our natural history back to life
- plant native trees and woods with the aim of creating resilient landscapes for people and wildlife.
Established in 1972, the Woodland Trust now has over 1,200 sites in its care covering approximately 29,000 hectares. Access to its woods is free so everyone can benefit from woods and trees.