Autumn colour in the Forest – photographed by Paul Cookson, a Friend of the Forest
There’s no mistaking the onset of autumn when you’re in or around the Heart of England Forest. A kaleidoscope of glorious red and yellow hues envelops the leaf canopy and trees and bushes groan with luscious fruit.
It’s hard to miss the abundant blackberries weighing down the prickly branches of pathside bramble bushes or the sloes dotted along hedgerow blackthorn, and for our seed and fruit-bearing native deciduous trees, such as oak, beech or crab apple, autumn signals the next stage in an annual cycle that leads to their eventual spring regeneration.
Eking out resources
With autumn approaching, the weather becomes even more unpredictable and regularly inclement and deciduous trees have to marshal their resources in order to survive this inhospitable season. During the summer, the trees’ sap rises t carrying essential nutrients to the outer reaches to nourish their branches and leaves. Bringing with it a colder atmosphere and the prospect of frost or even snow, autumn means that this activity ceases and the trees are forced to conserve their energy.
As the daylight hours diminish, the process of photosynthesis, that turns light energy into sugar, slows down. The green chlorophyll pigment that is responsible for absorbing sunlight and giving leaves their colour becomes redundant. Leaves begin to die off and drop, allowing the trees to conserve water and energy, although before this happens the host trees reabsorb as much energy as possible and store it in their roots.
The next stage
Seed production goes into overdrive during the autumn as deciduous trees and plants begin to prepare for the next round of regeneration. There are three groups of seeds from deciduous trees: nuts, fruit and wind- dispersed, and almost all provide valuable winter fuel for woodland wildlife. Of course, we all know that squirrels love acorns and hazelnuts, but the fruit from trees such as rowan and wild cherry also offers a ready supply of food for hungry birds. While wind-dispersed seeds are scattered by the breeze, the squirrels and birds also do their bit by dropping unwanted seeds and nuts around their locale, ready for germination during the warmer months of the following spring.
The harvest hunt
Collecting acorns is not just a job for squirrels! At this time of year, we encourage our visitors to join the hunt for the local crop. Using seeds and nuts from the local area to grow the Forest means that they will have already adapted to the soil, conditions and climate, giving them the best possible chance of survival.