September heralds the start of autumn, a time of great change for woodland. The leaves of some trees, such as ash and beech, will begin to yellow. While many species will be trying to fatten up to survive their winter hibernation.
Trees/shrubs… This is very much berry season, the ripening reds of haws, rowan berries, rose hips and cowberries bring a splash of colour. But look out for the deep blacks of sloes, elderberries and blackberries too. Acorns start falling to the ground this month, and non-native horse chestnut trees will be dropping their bounty of conkers – to the delight of many children (and some adults too). This is the last month to see bilberries fruiting, now their leaves turn to yellows and reds.
Plants… Ivy’s flowering season is September-October. These blooms offer an important late nectar source for insects, including those preparing to hibernate. Ivy often gets a bad name, but it is a valuable plant for wildlife at a time of year when little else is in flower. Its evergreen leaves also offer species a refuge from the cold. Western and dwarf gorse will still be flowering this month, they have a long season in bloom from June to November. While common gorse flowers throughout the year, including the harsh winter months.
Fungi… Autumn is a wonderful time for fungi. The mushroom and toadstool fruiting bodies contain spores that enable fungi to reproduce. The main body of a fungus is made up of a network of mycelial threads within the soil or rotting wood and that we rarely see. If you are on a fungal foray or foraging, please do not take all the fruiting bodies you find as this will destroy future generations of these important Earth recyclers. Do look out for amethyst deceiver, candle snuff fungus, yellow stagshorn, velvet shank and beefsteak fungus in woodland this month.
Birds… This is a great time for bird enthusiasts as passing migrants fly through the UK on their way from countries like Greenland to warmers climes. Nightjars are leaving our woods to overwinter in Africa. Some late breeders may still be tending their chicks this month, so take care if carrying out work to hedges or trees.
Mammals… Hedgehogs will be hunting for food such as slugs and snails, they really are a gardeners friend, to fatten up for winter hibernation. These spiky woodland creatures have suffered a massive decline in numbers across the UK, and their population is thought to have dropped by almost 50% in the last 25 years. Please do not feed them bread and milk as it is harmful to them, but they do like a meaty morsel of cat/dog food.
Reptiles… Smooth snakes give birth to independent, live young this month. They are Britain’s rarest reptiles and can only be found on heathland in Dorset, Hampshire, Surrey and West Sussex.
Insects… The rare golden hoverfly may be spotted around ivy flowers in ancient woodland in the south east of England. It has only been seen four times in the last ten years – but it could be hiding from us high up in the tree canopy. Some butterflies can still be found flying in September, look out for speckled wood, brimstone, silver-washed fritillary and purple hairstreak on sunny days.
Our VisitWoods website can help you locate many stunning woods in your area and across the UK. You can also record all your amazing finds on our Nature’s Calendar website and be part of a great citizen science movement.
Kay Haw, Assistant Conservation Adviser