The riches of Dartmoor dung

There’s something about dung which should worry you. In my childhood the local fields of animals had rich dung pats, full of holes from beetles buried in the stuff. There were flies buzzing from pile to pile and fungi with strange eyelashes or egg-shaped caps bursting from the surfaces. Now, not so much. Much animal dung sits there, sterile and devoid of life, waiting to be washed away by the rain. Farm animals are treated with anti-parasitic drugs and antibiotics and these come out in their dung, inhibit the natural process of recycling, and potentially breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The collapse in the last few decades in the amount of insect life, which supports much other bird, mammal and reptile life, is partly caused by drugs in farm animals. Motorway services and garages used to sell products to remove fly-squash from windscreens, the level of invertebrate life was so high. Now, there’s no need, and the rest of the natural food chain suffers as a result.

Invermectin is one commonly used drug. It is used to kill parasitic worms in cattle. It’s vital that runoff from treated cattle doesn’t reach lakes or rivers, as it can affect aquatic insects and fish, and that containers are safely disposed of. Invermectin is also used to treat head lice and scabies in humans. Over a million doses of it are delivered every day across the world. It appears to be superficially safe for the individual human to take. What is the cumulative effect on the natural world of all of those doses? It’s a very useful drug to support our current unsustainable way of living. In addition, there are currently double-blind randomized clinical trials of Ivermectin for treatment of adults with severe COVID-19. Expect usage to increase.

Dung is meant to be teeming with life. As you must know by now, I’m the sort of man who would happily read a copy of Insects of the British Cow-Dung Community, especially when it’s written by someone whose surname is Skidmore. It’s great fun to see what should be living in a cow pat, so here’s a link.

Out on Dartmoor at Challacombe Farm, the cow pats are alive with invertebrates and these fungi are rearing their pretty heads.

Deconica coprophila - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

They are Deconica coprophila, the Dung-Loving Psilocybe

Deconica coprophila - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Unlike other Psylocybes, these don’t contain the psychedelic compound psilocybin, but they give me a trip just seeing them.

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