Autumn and winter seasons bring much richness in nature’s activities on the ‘ten for nature’ land. Again this year the autumn woodland areas exploded into colour, providing endless food treats for birds, bees and small mammals.
The bright red, orange and golden leaf colour on some of the two thousand shrubs was a warming, mindful treat as the days began to grow shorter, fill with grey cloud and rain or an icy chill. Would autumn ever end, we wondered, as the leaves resisted dropping. Somehow the bird migration from northern parts of Europe knew to leave later and arrive later to our ‘ten for nature’ land.
A well-stocked autumn larder
The land larder is now well-stocked for many of nature’s rich tapestry of creatures. The autumn flowering plants like Michaelmas daisies lasted well into late October, as did the humming sound on warm days of visiting wasps, bees, hover flies and more. A few patches of ivy flowers intermingled amongst every growing and thickening hedge, left uncut until early February time. Hedges were full of berries and safe places to tuck safely into overnight for birds, wood mice – too thick for feral cats’ night prowl.
The bees and wasps still ventured out on the warm days of early November – reaching 17C one day – to feed and top up their food needs. Meantime lace wings and tortoiseshell butterflies made a bee line to be inside the summerhouse, wooden stacks and other wooden structures for a winter roost.
Green caterpillars along with slugs found enormous relish in the nonstop growing of the broccoli and cauliflower planted next to the fields. Only the black and white fly stubbornly hung on in the trees and plants despite a frost, as they carefully hid in dark well-protected spaces in the leaf and stem undersides. Overall, there was a sense of wellbeing
Technicolour foliage and berries
The colours of the leaves and fruits of the field maple and guelder rose and the richness of pink leaves and fruits of the spindle bushes were attractive in themselves, let alone for the birds coming to feed on their berries. Fields planted over six years with a wide range of berry shrubs and trees – rowan, whitebeam, crab apple, cornus and bird cherry – became a technicolour of leaves, stems and berries. In latter years, we added different cotoneaster varieties especially francetti, a variety rich with scarlet red berries. It grows surprisingly well and copes with extremes of wet and dry periods, providing protective hedge cover for bird corridors to find food and protection.
Old holly bushes in the hedge are full of berries this year due to a perfect blossom spring and they managed to survive into berry stage despite such a dry summer. Wild clematis now in a spurt of growth after dry, dry summers moved into its seed head stage, a perfect trap for small insects and a site of exploration of hungry birds, a family of tits and the gold crest, another migrant visitor. Planting wild clematis and other climbers amongst the planted hedge whips over the last four years has created a rich structure of hedge, replicating quite quickly centuries-old hedges removed over the last 40 years. They are favourite sites for food, communal gathering in food parties and night roosting. The seed heads of clematis provide endless possibilities from food to soft nest bedding for springtime.
Christmas decorations in short supply thanks to foraging birds!
The rowan tree branches drooped to the ground with their fruit crop after heavy rain in early autumn. It took until early November for the birds to move in to explore this range of ‘tapas’ fruit that had emerged on these planted trees and shrubs some six years ago. The mistle thrushes and blackbirds started their feeding on them in late October and then within days, with the good weather of late October/early November, the invasion occurred.
The first sightings of the redwings and fieldfares, groups of 50–100 were spotted, scouring the land for post migration feeding. Soon the old hawthorns, 100 years old and more were losing their red colour as berries disappeared overnight. The rowans with their bumper crop were swarmed by Scandinavian blackbirds, 16–20 in one count, always starting with the ripest at the top of the tree and wisely leaving lower ones for later weeks. The white beam, holly and hawthorns were steadily stripped with mid-morning and mid-afternoon feeding frenzies.
The cotoneaster berries were still not ready, as these remained quite hard, similar to some of the rose hips of the briar rose plantings. A December and January larder choice. Little was spared from holly and yew berries by the birds, so these red berries will be in short supply for the Christmas decorations. There seems a notable increase in bird numbers in this migration, now foraging hard before mid-advent.
Food for all
Crab apples remained untouched surprisingly, yet not the bird cherry. It has small black cherries and was found by these flocks of winter migration in their early winter choices, foraging with ease. The sparrowhawk makes a kill, leaving a great tit feather patch below the ‘ancient heritage field maple’ tree, as autumn plays through.
Good news this past summer: another sparrowhawk family raised in nearby woodland, and two kestrel chicks raised in a broken limb of old oak, aged maybe 500 years old, hidden right above where all the walkers and hunters with guns pass all year. Fledged in July, their branching and flying attempts and food begging diverted the work in the fields for several hours each day. Another joy awaits next year: the kestrel courtship in April, feeding sorties in June, and the sight of the new young flying pioneers in July.
Hazel trees have now grown well and are ready for a second year of coppicing in February of the new year. These were filled with filberts from early September and, on the ground, the small holes in the fallen hazelnuts reveal the presence of field vole and squirrel – exciting!
A natural system at work
The process of wilding, seeking to be guided by nature as to what it requires, makes for a richer awareness of the existence of a natural system of shared knowledge and harmonious agreement amongst species as to when to take and eat or leave for later, when to migrate or not, when to stock up, and where and when to seek refuge for a hard time. Nature reveals it’s adaptable, community orientated, able to resolve its squabbles and share. It’s also able to protect: any walk through the land will bring alarm call shrieks from blackbirds warning all that ‘homo sapiens’ is about.
Delight, optimism and a deepening understanding
The sound of singing robins brings the operatic chorus of autumn to a twilight close. A sense of wellbeing emerges as we put the topper tractor away for the season in the old barn with its resident barn owl and a rich pile of its owl pellets. We delight in having managed for the first year to sow yellow rattle seeds (own grown and harvested) on time before the first frosts. Then nature returns our giving and brings the first frost to help the yellow rattle seeds germinate within a few days of sowing, so more delight, and a sense of optimism for next year’s nature journey.
It all adds further to our understanding that we are working with, and subject to, nature’s own intelligence, which is rich, creative and responsive. What’s more, given a home once more made congenial, nature is entirely able, indeed prefers, to thrive in all its diversity without human engagement. Human engagement needs a rapid mindful and nuturing shift of behaviours and focus to live well with its giver of life and breath.