Mushroom wood that was nearly a golf course

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The Independent Online
PENN WOOD in Buckinghamshire, which the Woodland Trust saved for the nation this year, is living proof of why ancient woodlands are such special places.

Two notable features strike the visitor who plunges into its light and shade. The first is the hush, solemn and enveloping, but very peaceful atmosphere. The world and its cares seem shut out.

The second, by contrast, is the abundance of life. Treecreepers and nuthatches can both be heard calling, among many other birds, alongside the chip! chip! chip! of a great spotted woodpecker.

Although by this time of year most of the wild flowers have died off, a spectacular display of fungi is more than adequate compensation.

Jill Butler, the Woodland Trust officer looking after Penn Wood, is a fungi expert and within 20 yards of a great 400-year-old oak tree - complete with two woodpecker holes - she points out a variety of large mushroom species: the blusher, which reddens when damaged; the sulphur tuft, which is bright yellow on the top of its cap; the red-cracking bolete, a relation of the cep but alas no culinary treasure; milk caps, which can be eaten; beefsteak fungus, which can also be eaten but doesn't taste like much; and chicken-of-the-woods, which tastes good if you get it young.

Yet Penn Wood also exemplifies the threats that ancient woodlands face. Its previous owners wished to turn it into a golf course and had already begun bulldozing the trees before a determined campaign by local people induced the Secretary of State for the Environment, John Prescott, to rescind the planning permission last December.

Its future was secured when the Woodland Trust bought it outright in March for pounds 1.2m, although the last of the money has still to be raised.