Discover intelligent slime...and other great things to do on Exmoor

PUBLISHED: 16:07 23 September 2020 | UPDATED: 13:07 30 September 2020

Exmoor is a unique habitat. Photo: Nigel Stone

Exmoor is a unique habitat. Photo: Nigel Stone

Nigel M Stone

Exmoor experts reveal loads of fabulous ways to have fun on the moor

Even the charmingly named dog vomit slime mould has its place in Exmoor’s diverse habitat. Photo: Patrick Watts-MabbottEven the charmingly named dog vomit slime mould has its place in Exmoor’s diverse habitat. Photo: Patrick Watts-Mabbott

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder; everything has its place in the world - but dog vomit slime mould? “Slime mould is the most amazing thing,” says Patrick Watts-Mabbott, Exmoor National Park outreach officer. “It’s a single-celled colony of organisms that come together to form fungi-like sporing masses.”

I’m still not sold on the idea, so Patrick goes on to tell me that he’s just read a book which explains that slime mould is an intelligent being, with evidence to show that they can make decisions and solve complex problems. It turns out that this dog vomit, a peculiar, yellowish fungi, also known as the slightly more appealing-sounding ‘scrambled-egg’ slime, is actually much more than just a gross, wobbly substance on the side of some dead wood.

Patrick, who has worked or volunteered on Exmoor since he was 13 years old (he’s now ‘in his forties’) is passionate about all wildlife – even the slimy stuff.

He helps to co-ordinate the national park’s WildWatch programme, aimed at encouraging locals and visitors to record sightings of any birds, plants, insects, mammals and plants they spot in this uniquely diverse moorland habitat.

The waxcap fungi is a favourite find. Photo: Patrick Watts-MabbottThe waxcap fungi is a favourite find. Photo: Patrick Watts-Mabbott

Usually, this is done through teams of volunteers and organised events. During lockdown, however, Patrick has been encouraging people to take pictures of their findings while out walking before uploading them to the ‘Exmoor Wildwatch’ and ‘Exmoor from Home’ sections on an app, called iNaturalist.

So far, more than 4,000 plant and wildlife observations have been recorded by members of the public. These findings are vital to help Exmoor National Park staff to monitor the condition of habitats across the area.

“Unless we know what’s there, we don’t know what’s missing,” says Patrick, who is delighted with the response to the appeal. “The records provide a really good indicator of which way our biodiversity is going.

“In ten years’ time, it might be that numbers of certain species have halved, or they might have doubled.”

Top sightings submitted so far have included eye bright, an ancient herbal remedy with anti-inflammatory properties, the meadow brown butterfly and the bloody-nosed beetle. Dog vomit slime mould has also been a popular upload.

Patrick says every record helps – even if people are not sure what they’re looking at. Once an image has been uploaded, it’s checked and verified through a system of volunteers and other experts based locally and across the world.

“There’s been this amazing global connection,” says Patrick, explaining that an 18-year-old orchid expert in Vermont, USA has been working with a primary school teacher in France to verify a flower found by an 80-year-old volunteer on Exmoor.

“It doesn’t matter what you look like or where you’re from, everyone can take part,” adds Patrick. “There’s just this love of nature being shared between people.”

It’s hoped the success of the app-based WildWatch project will continue, with people recording and reporting findings throughout their autumn and winter Exmoor walks.

Close-ups, different angles, plus indicators of scale in the images will help to categorise sightings.

Locals and visitors are also being asked to upload pictures of any unwanted intruders, such as Japanese and Himalayan knotweed, Himalayan balsam, montbretia and American skunk cabbage.

Monitoring these invasive species is another vital part of the conservation work usually done by volunteers during organised surveying events, which have been restricted since lockdown.

“It’s about helping with Exmoor’s records,” says Patrick, admitting he spends hours going through the iNaturalist app to see what’s been spotted. This month, he’s looking out for uploads of the waxcap fungi. “They’re these little brightly coloured mushrooms that grow in low nutrient grassland.” They sound slightly more charming than their slime mould cousins.

But Exmoor is home to the weird and the wonderful. We can all do our bit to preserve it - slime and all.

exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk; inaturalist.org

COMING UP ON AND AROUND EXMOOR

20 to 22 November: A choral singing weekend with a Christmas theme, led by Ian Chesworth, who has tutored choral workshops for over 12 years. The event takes place at the Yarn Market Hotel, Dunster.

21 to 22 November: Exmoor Christmas Fair is a magical event in Porlock Village Hall.

12 December: Book your seat on the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway Santa Specials, guaranteed to get you in the festive mood.

First weekend in March 2021: Here’s a date for your diary - The Star Trek Challenge is a night walk across Exmoor, organised by the Rotary Clubs of Ilfracombe and Ilfracombe Compass Rotary. See visitilfracombe.co.uk

WHERE TO EAT, DRINK AND VISIT

Awarded the ‘best scones in Devon’ by judges here at Devon Life, the Lynmouth Bay Café serves up beautiful homemade cakes and sandwiches. See lynmouthbaycafe.co.uk 

The Fox and Goose at Parracombe is a ‘proper Exmoor inn’ with a menu that varies with the seasons. See foxandgooseinnexmoor.co.uk 

Not far from Exmoor is the multi-award winning Swan at Bampton. See theswan.co

Quince Honey Farm in South Molton hosts beekeeping demos and has an adventure play park. Fun for all the family. See quincehoneyfarm.co.uk

No family trip to Lynton and Lynmouth would be complete without a ride on the famous funicular cliff lift, the highest and the steepest totally water powered railway in the world. See cliffrailwaylynton.co.uk

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