Non-vascular Plant and Fungi Surveys


Many non-vascular plants (including bryophytes, algae etc) and fungi (including lichens) are difficult to identify and therefore most surveys need to be carried out by experienced observers. Contact a recording scheme or group if you are a new recorder (see some suggested links) The methods described here are based on those by Bullock in Sutherland (Ed) ‘Ecological Census Techniques’.

These pages do not attempt to describe some specialist survey techniques that would necessarily be carried out by experts only (e.g. seed bank sampling). For some of these species microscopic identification may be required.

Personal Safety

Please read this safety information before carrying out a survey. In addition, many fungi species are poisonous, read the wild mushroom pickers code if considering undertaking a survey.


Certain species can only be located at certain times of the year. If you are undertaking a one-off survey of a site you will normally need to make more than one visit to ensure you maximize the proportion of species present at the site that are found during surveying. If you are surveying specific species you should ensure all visits are carried out at the appropriate time of year. If in any doubt consult literature about the species or an acknowledged expert before deciding when to visit. As an example, the majority of fungi species are most likely to be found in late summer or autumn and therefore most surveys or ‘fungus forays’ are carried out at this time of year. However, some species of fungi are only visible in spring and would therefore be missed during fungus forays carried out at the traditional time.

Monitoring Frequency

To be able to monitor long term trends, it is important that surveys are repeated on a regular basis (ideally at least annually). To allow comparisons to be made from year to year, the visit date or dates each year should not vary by more than a few days.


From the following list depending on the methodology used (see Methodology section for details)

  • Map(s) of site(s) with compartments marked (ensure the scale is sufficient to allow accurate recording of the plots and/or plants as applicable).
  • Recording forms.
  • Metal pegs to mark plots in first year of recording.
  • Metal detector to re-locate pegs in future years.
  • Tape measure and/or length of string or cord.
  • Collecting tray if undertaking fungi forays


Use of Plots or Quadrats

Most groups of non-vascular plants or fungi can be surveyed using plots or ‘quadrats’ (a Quadrat is basically a square formed from strips of wood, metal, or plastic that can be carried and used to define a sample area). A survey of this type would follow the same methodology as for Vascular plants, described in Plant Community Monitoring (Method 1). This method is designed to describe trends in the dominant and widespread species on a site. The plots will need to be carefully considered and recorded to ensure the survey can be repeated in future years (e.g. certain mosses and lichens grow on walls and/or on trees where it may be difficult to define a ‘plot’).

Certain species are extremely slow growing so monitoring frequency may be less than annual. Plots or quadrats could also be used in certain instances to measure the spread of rarer species at individual sites (e.g. lichens)

Fungi forays

Fungi forays can be an important indicator of the presence of fungus species at a particular site. Most forays simply produce a list of species found and therefore do not measure changes in population density for species at a site from year to year. However, a simple list can still be useful for recording changes in the variety of fungi at a site.

To enable annual lists to be compared a few simple rules should be followed:

  • Ensure that the route followed and the habitats searched on a foray are the same from year to year. Ideally, the route should take in most if not all of the different habitats present at a site.
  • If possible, ensure that the search effort (time spent x number of people searching) is similar from year to year. In practise this may not always be possible as you do not know how many people will turn up for a foray. In this case a measure of effort can be recorded.
  • Always follow the Wild Mushroom Pickers Code of Conduct


Bullock, J. ‘Plants’ from Sutherland, William J. (Ed.), ‘Ecological Census Techniques – A Handbook’, pp. 111-138, Cambridge University Press, 1996.