Fabulous fungi lurk amid the fallen leaves

IT’S the month of first frosts and stormy nights when the sights, smells and sounds of autumn really bring the countryside to life.

RICH PALETTE: colour contrasts in Penn Woods PICTURE: Gel Murphy

The rapidly-changing colours and glorious textures of October make it a favourite with photographers, especially deep in the woods where the yellow, green and russet hues contrast so beautifully with the rugged outlines of ancient trees.

LEAF MAGIC: striking outlines at Penn PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

It’s also a month of ripe berries and falling fruit, with trees and bushes bursting with tasty treats for birds, insects and mammals alike and a huge array of startling fungi hiding beneath the fallen leaves.

FIERY FLAME: the yellow stagshorn PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

From the foul-smelling stinkhorns to poisonous toadstools, it’s thought there are more than six million species of fungi in the world, and we’re only really beginning to fully appreciate what an impact they have on our lives.

MUSHROOM MAGIC: fungi come in all colours PICTURE: Ken Law

They can change our minds, heal our bodies and even help us to avoid environmental disaster, as Merlin Sheldrake showed us in his fascinating 2020 book Entangled Life.

DELICATE OUTLINE: a saffrondrop bonnet PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

But although we may have only formally identified around 150,000 of the millions of fungi out there, they are a source of fascination for photographers and nature lovers alike.

FASCINATING: texture contrasts at Hughenden PICTURE: Ken Law

The colours and shapes fascinate us, even though we know their beauty can be deceptive and that there could be deadly consequences of dabbling with the most poisonous of them.

SUBTLE TONES: an amethyst deceiver PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

They vary in size from the microscopic to the largest organisms on earth and boast the most intriguing array of sinister-sounding names, from gelatinous jelly ears to toxic beechwood sickeners.

SPINY OUTLINE: a puffball in Bisham Woods PICTURE: Graham Parkinson

The glorious array of shapes and textures is a reminder that it’s now three years since we first asked local photographers to share some of their favourite pictures of the local landscape and wildlife in our monthly calendar feature: and what a joy those pictures have been.

MORNING LIGHT: Raans Farm, Amersham PICTURE: Gel Murphy

Back in October 2020, with half the country still in lockdown, the natural world was providing a vital escape from the stresses and strains of mask wearing and social distancing – and for many, offering an absolutely essential boost to mental health.

IN THE PINK: a bench at Penn Wood in 2020 PICTURE: Andrew Knight

Three years on, there may not be quite as many families exploring the local woods any more, but the natural world is still a lifeline to millions, an escape from the stresses and strains of frantic modern living and the all-pervasive hubbub of social media.

TOXIC TOADSTOOL: fly agarics in Penn Wood PICTURE: Andrew Knight

As Peak District photographer Suzanne Howard – better known as @peaklass on her social media feeds – recently posted: “Sometimes, when the world is too noisy and sad, it helps to walk into the kaleidoscope of an autumn country lane. To hear nothing but your footsteps and the leaves falling, and to feel the solidity of old trees arching their boughs over you. I hope everyone can find their lane.”

MOMENT OF CALM: leaves falling at Penn PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

Nature writer Melissa Harrison picks up on the theme of sound in her book The Stubborn Light of Things. She writes: “Sound is such a vital part of our relationship with nature, and yet – apart from birdsong – it’s so easily overlooked.”


Marvelling at the silence surrounding her country cottage in rural Suffolk, she wrote: “For most of our history, total silence – and total darkness – would have been nothing unusual at all.

PEACEFUL SPOT: mushrooms at Penn PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

“This new quietness has made me more aware of sound , from the mysterious creature which processes across my roof each night to the rain gurgling relentlessly in the gutters and the noise the wind makes as it rushes through the last of the ash leaves, tattered and yellowing.”

SENSE OF CONNECTION: footpaths at Latimer PICTURE: Sue Craigs Erwin

For Chris Packham, society’s increasing physical and cultural separation from nature is a crisis of disconnection that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency, as he outlined in his book Back To nature, co-authored with stepdaughter Megan McCubbin.

RUTTING SEASON: Windsor Great Park PICTURE: Leslie Tilson

Not that Beyonder readers need any reminder of the importance of maintaining our familiarity with the great outdoors, but that’s not to say it’s always easy. Life gets in the way and health problems or work commitments may make it harder to get out and about on a rainy day, and easier to procrastinate when dusk starts falling fast and the temperatures drop.

SUNSET SILHOUETTE: stags at Grangelands in 2020 PICTURE: Anne Rixon

But making the extra effort is always worth it, and our photographers have been braving the elements at all times of the day over the past three years.

We’ve included a couple of our favourite shots from our October post in 2020 along with links to some of our regular contributors, but we are always on the lookout for new members who can help expand our coverage of the local area.

INTRICATE PATTERN: a spider’s web PICTURE: Gel Murphy

By the end of October, houses across the Chilterns are bedecked with cobwebs, witches and carved pumpkin lanterns to welcome the little parties of ghouls and ghosts trotting round to see their neighbours, a prelude to the noisy parties of Bonfire Night.

PARTY SEASON: getting in the Halloween spirit PICTURE: Nicole Burrell

But away from the welcoming lights and lanterns, from the banks of the Thames to Ivinghoe Beacon, this is an ancient and fascinating landscape with thousands of hidden pathways, Roman roads and drovers’ routes to explore – and we’re grateful, as always, to those hardy souls who are out and about in all weathers capturing the beauty of the local countryside in all its glory.

If you have a picture or two you would like us to feature in a future post, drop us a line by email to editor@thebeyonder.co.uk, join us in our Facebook group or contact us on Twitter @TheBeyonderUK or Instagram at thebeyonderuk.

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