A RARE and slightly gruesome fungus which is only seen in Oxfordshire once every 50 years has been spotted again.

The bizarre-looking olive earth-tongue fungus was discovered by ecological consultant Judith Webb while walking at Aston Rowant nature reserve near Watlington.

The endangered species is known as the earth-tongue because it was thought to resemble the dead and buried sticking out their tongues at passers-by.

It was last seen in Oxfordshire in 1958, and before that had not been sighted in the county since 1909.

Dr Webb who volunteers at Aston Rowant for Natural England, said: "I've never seen them before and didn't realise they were so pretty, with these blue-green stalks.

"These grassland earth-tongues only fruit if there's sufficient rain and it's still warm in November.

"If it's too cold, they never show, even if it's wet enough, but they fruit best in extremely short rabbit-grazed turf."

The olive earth-tongue (Microglossum olivaceum) is a rare and endangered species, listed under Section 41 of the 2006 Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act, with its own species action plan to protect it.

At 3 – 6cm tall, the fruiting bodies, or little brown green "tongues" poking out of the turf lack the glamour of other fungi and are relatively under-recorded. Natural England reserve manager at Aston Rowant, Mick Venters, said: "The Autumn just gone was fungitastic.

"We've had some superb examples discovered by Judy, ranging from mousepee pinkgill to crimson waxcap but the olive earth-tongue is a first for Aston Rowant.

"I'm chuffed that it’s made its home here after a 58 year absence in Oxfordshire, which reflects well on the maintenance of unimproved grassland on the reserve and the great eagle-eyed work of our volunteers."