Delight at rare fungus discovery
A rare fungi which could hold huge potential in medical research has been discovered on pony dung in a Norfolk forest.
The nail fungus Poronia punctata had not been recorded in the county since 1944 and until recently was only known in the UK in the New Forest.
While researchers say they are baffled by the discovery, made during a routine inspection, on restored heathland in Thetford Forest, Forestry Commission ecologists are "delighted".
They say it is clear that heathland restoration and management of the rough ground grazed by organic ponies has created the perfect conditions for the rare fungus.
Jonathan Spencer, the commission's head of environment and planning, said: "We really were delighted and are very excited by the discovery.
"Until recently this fungus was only known in the UK from the New Forest, but it has started to appear in a tiny number of other places where ponies have been used to restore heathland. As well as thrilling conservationists, the fungus is drawing serious attention from the world of medicinal research too.
"The peculiar way it competes with other bacteria and fungi in the dung using antibiotics is new to science and only just beginning to be explored, so its use and value could be huge. Fungi have so much to offer in this way; they are key parts of our biodiversity that could hold huge potential for services yet to be realised."
The fungus, named after its distinctive appearance, similar to an old-fashioned flat-headed nail, grows only on dry dung from ponies that have fed on heathy grassland that has not been agriculturally improved.
The ponies it passes through have to be organic and treated only by benign veterinary products.
The site, near Hockwold in Norfolk, has been restored to heathland as part of a major plan to link up and expand existing Breckland heaths.