Hedgehog mushrooms in Ecclesall Woods

This month has been a good one for mushroom collecting and these hedgehog fungi were foraged in Ecclesall Woods in mid-November, which is considered quite late in the year for this species. Hydnum repandum is one of the easiest fungi to identify as it has teeth or spines instead of gills.

They have an irregular convex cap with a slight wavy margin and appear ghostly pale against the browns and oranges of fallen leaves, which often half bury them due to their short stature. It always pays to look down at your feet when walking in the woods – in fact many of the ones I collected looked as if they had been kicked, whether purposefully or not.

In the UK hedgehog mushrooms can be found in most types of woodland © Fran Halsall

Known as the wood hedgehog, wood urchin and sweet tooth, a mushroom that goes by this many names is usually either tasty or poisonous, otherwise there is little reason for it to be given much regard. Fortunately in this case it is due to its deliciousness, it is both sweet and nutty, and has a pleasant texture.

It is among the gourmet mushrooms that are sometimes seen in shops come late summer but never in great quantity. Only gather ones that are still creamy coloured, being careful to cut the stem low down to avoid damaging the mycelium that connects them to tree roots. Like all wild mushrooms, they should be cooked through before consumption.


They can be confused with the edible terracotta hedgehog, H. rufescens, which is aptly named for its warm brown colour, and the bitter tooth, Sarcodon scabrosus, which some regard as poisonous. In the latter case, the colouration is a much darker brownand tastes highly unpleasant.

As always, do not be tempted to use this visual description alone as a definitive ID for collecting fungi. The smell is important: it will have an earthy yet agreeable aroma. If in doubt, make a spore print – this will be white.

Ecclesall Woods: A Virtual Exploration of the ‘Spring Wood’

A couple of weeks ago I teamed up with Green City Heritage to make this fab short film, in which I talk about the veteran trees of Ecclesall Woods. Come and meet these pieces of living history and learn how to recognise their special qualities.

Woodland wanders with Sheffield Woodland Connections – bluebells in Ecclesall Woods 8th May 2020

A short video among the English bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) tracing the winding paths in Ecclesall Woods, Sheffield. Enjoy the sights and sounds of South Yorkshire’s largest ancient woodland in all its springtime splendour. With around 50% of the world’s population, Britain is the only place where you can see such large colonies of bluebells and the dazzling display only lasts for a month at most.

Bluebells are a key ancient woodland indicator species and where extensive carpets of them are seen it is safe to assume that you are in woodland dating back at least 400 years. While the bluebells themselves are not this old the bulbs lay dormant in the soil, surviving for decades while they wait for enough light to flower and creep incrementally outwards.

Planting woodland on Houndkirk Moor

This morning I joined a group of about twenty keen volunteers to plant up a few hundred tree whips on Houndkirk Moor, on Sheffield’s western outskirts.  This initiative is led by the Eastern Moors Partnership, which manages the extensive moorlands of northeast Derbyshire and South Yorkshire. They have teamed up with a semi-regular group of volunteers organised by local author and environmental campaigner Sally Goldsmith to create the woodlands of the future. 

alder and holly whips
common hair moss
oak and willow whips

All that is left of what was once a wooded landscape is a smattering of birch, some veteran rowans, oaks and pockets of willow on damper soil.  Bracken has taken hold of this land;  wherever there is bracken a woodland once stood – it is a woodland species.  Take the shading effects of trees out of the ecosystem and rhizomatous bracken runs amok. 

Managing bracken encroachment is a time consuming and sometimes controversial business, or at least it is when chemical controls are used.  In quantity bracken is toxic to sheep and cows, meaning that grazing methods used to control other vigorous plants cannot be applied.  It would be easy to give up the fight, however restoring woodland might go some way toward taming the bracken.

Sarah getting the tree roots covered
John with bracken rhizomes
Sally and veteran rowan

This may be the landscape we inherited but we can plant a better legacy.  Planting the right trees on the right patch of moorland – the areas already blighted by bracken rather than the blanket bogs already effectively storing carbon – is a smart and cost-effective move.

We need locations to plant the vast number of trees required to draw down carbon from the atmosphere to help meet CO2 reduction targets.  That is reason enough, however this is also an opportunity to plant native woodland to provide food and cover for birds and other wild animals.  Trees planted today will provide seed for the next generation of woodland, which will regenerate naturally to fit its environment more perfectly than even our best attempts at restoring nature. 

The tree planting volunteers

Unsurprisingly, the main challenge this site presents is rampant bracken. Having never planted into it before this was a new experience for me.  It involves bashing and trampling before digging can even begin.  My progress was slow but at least I was thorough.  The soil is good for planting in the sense that it is peat, only it is full of tough bracken rhizomes that take some teasing out.  Little soil is left afterwards.  We also had to be particularly careful to not damage surviving examples of Sphagnum peat moss; I saw only fragments of it.  Another Bryophyte highlight was a couple of common hair moss (Polytrichum commune) patches.

Species we planted: 

alder (Alnus glutinosa) – in wet soil

birches, both silver (Betula pendula) and downy (B. pubescens)

hawthorn (Crateagus monogyna)

holly (Ilex aquifolium)

rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)

sessile oak (Quercus petraea)

willow (Salix spp.) – in wet soil