Autumn greets us this month and thankfully we have had the pleasure of a fairly decent summer. This year looks to have produced a good supply of nuts and berries, essential for wildlife fattening up to survive winter but also good for human foragers.
Trees/shrubs… The leaves of trees will begin to change as they absorb chlorophyll and essential nutrients from their leaves, storing it in their roots to wait for the following spring. Greens change to yellows, oranges and reds and fall or die back, ash and beech are among the first to get show their autumn hues. The haws, rowan berries, rose hips and cow berries rpien bringing flashes of sensuous red to the landscape. Acorns and conkers fall from the trees, some will be eaten, some carried home by humans and some may be lucky enough to survive to grow into the next generation. The winged seeds of ash and field maple are also about, this year the ash trees seem to be full of them.
Plants… The long seed pods of rosebay willowherb will be bursting open. This once scarce woodland plant has grown and spread over the last century because of the clearing of forests during the two World Wars. Another of its names is ‘bombweed’ as it was able to quickly colonise bomb sites. The attractive yellow flowers of gorse and the slightly pungent blooms of ivy will be around to offer insect late sources ofpollen/nectar. The pink flowers of the non-native invasive Himalayan balsam are at their peak. This plant can dominate riverbanks and outcompete native flora.
Fungi/lichens… Interesting earthstar fungi can be found in the leaf litter of deciduous woods until November. These uncommon species have shperical centres surrounded by outer rays, the spores are produced in the inner balls and released through a hole in the top.
Birds… Birds that have spent their summer breeding further north in the Arctic and Iceland return to overwinter in the relatively warmer climate offered by the UK. Whereas other species that have enjoyed summer here, such as swallows, are leaving for warmer countries. Migration routes can be long and dangerous, and these birds will need to rest and refuel as they travel. It is essential that we preserve their habitats at either end of their long journies, and the important stopping points along the way.
Mammals… Prickly hedgehogs are preparing for winter hibernation this month. Snuffling out earthworms, beetles and slugs to fatten themselves up. Bread and milk was once put out, but these human foods are not good for them. Meaty food is better and will help support these gardeners friends so they will return next year to eat the slugs and snails that are the bane of many vegetable patches.
Reptiles… The live young of smooth snakes, the UKs rarest and shyest reptile, will be born this month. The female gives birth to 4-15 miniature versions of herself. These youngsters will spend the next couple of months hunting for prey, including invertebrates, rodents and lizards, before gathering to hibernate communally.
Insects… A number of butterflies can still be seen flitting along woodland rides and glades. Watch out for speckled woods, commas and brimstones. Purple hairstreaks may be found around oak trees in most of England, Wales and southern Scotland. In south east England the rare golden hoverfly may be spotted in ancient woodland.
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