Have a funghi day out at Whitby Museum’s latest exhibition

Visitors admire the Whitby jelly
Visitors admire the Whitby jelly

A ground-breaking exhibition on nature’s dark side in Whitby Museum is being held for the first time in England.

The display, at Whitby Museum as part of Whitby Naturalists Club’s centenary celebrations, aims to explain how important fungi is to the very existence of human life.

A sheep skull with funhi on it

A sheep skull with funhi on it

The exhibition uses live funghi, natural objects, artefacts, panels and music to explore the world of funghi, explaining why we need them and why they are important in conservation.

Chairman of Whitby Naturalists’ Club Dr David Minter (62) said: “As the cradle of fungal conservation and home to the gothic, Whitby is the ideal venue for an exhibition focused on nature’s dark side.

“The funghi so often pictured as agents of death and decay are also paradoxically a source of life.

“They form their own huge biological kingdom where plants produce and animals consume, they are the great recyclers.

A reindeer eating lichen

A reindeer eating lichen

“Without them life on earth would be unsustainable.

“The exhibition shows it is possible to stimulate public interest in these wonderful organisms on which our lives depend; it is also a wake-up call to everybody - not just educationalists, conservationists, botanic gardens and natural history museums - that our neglect of the fungal kingdom needs to be put right.

“Above all, recognising the vital part funghi play, both in supporting mankind and sustaining life on our planet, and the challenge of conserving them in the wild demands our attention before it is too late. Funghi also need protection.”

The naturalists’ exhibition is on from Tuesday to Sunday until November 30 and covers four major themes of the fungal world – including, most crucially, climate change.

A yellow club fungus pictured at Hole of Horcum

A yellow club fungus pictured at Hole of Horcum

Dr Minter explained: “We are only just starting to appreciate the full effect of climate change on types of fungi.

“The main trend that has been observed is the fact that the fungi will move from their natural habitats to areas they would never have been seen in before.

“The impact this has is that the former habitats have lost a key link in their food cycles, meaning it can’t support life any more.”

Indeed the next key function of the exhibit is to increase public awareness in fungi and what its use has created.

Fungi has already proved pivotal in the development of penicillin and statins as well as yeast for bread making and alcoholic drinks.

Dr Minter also said that they hope to educate young people about the importance of funghi as these important organisms are almost totally overlooked and there is no permanent display dedicated to educating the public about funghi anywhere in the UK.

“In the new national curriculum for pupils aged 14 and under, currently under consultation on the internet, there are more than 60 mentions of plants and animals in the science plans but not one mention of fungi,” he said.

“As already mentioned, fungi is key to everything we hold dear and to not teach children about it would be a disaster.

“Astonishingly this seems to be the first exhibition about funghi ever staged in England, that makes it a ground breaking event.”