It’s time for fantastic fungi, stunning autumn leaf colour and bushes strewn with a profusion of nuts and berries. Get out and enjoy nature’s splendour, stomp through crunchy fallen leaves and inspire kids to become autumn tree and leaf detectives. Take a spotter sheet and identify fallen leaves and discover which nuts and seeds come from which tree.
Wondering where to go? Try Oakley Wood or Bubbenhall Wood where you’ll also find fungi or visit Radway Meadows near Kineton for autumn foraging in ancient hedgerows. If you’re after the lift of sunlight striking through golden leaves simply seek out your nearest park or tree-lined street! Beech trees can be especially spectacular with leaves turning yellow, gold and orange before they fall. Autumnal colour is everywhere!
Rare red squirrels
Autumn brings Red Squirrel Week and reminds us of the rarity of our native squirrels. Smaller than a grey squirrel, being only 19-23cm long and about half the weight, red squirrels have characteristically long tufts on their ears which greys never have.
Grey squirrels were introduced from North America back in 1876 and with numbers up to around 2.5 million they are a common sight in our parks and gardens. With only around 140,000 red squirrels left in the UK wildlife experts are trying to protect them. Unfortunately red and grey squirrels can’t live in the same area together. Greys are bigger and better at competing for food and places to live, plus they carry squirrelpox virus. Grey squirrels don’t get ill from the virus but it’s fatal to reds and, when it’s passed on to them, they die within 1-2 weeks. Scientists are looking into developing a vaccine for the virus but they’re not there yet. So if you are keen to spot a native red squirrel you’ll still have to travel to their strongholds in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Northern England or the tiny pockets in Wales, the Isle of Wight or Brownsea Island off the Dorset coast.
Horse chestnut trees are still fighting against the leaf mining moth which has been infecting these majestic trees in the UK since it was first spotted in Wimbledon in 2002. You can see patches on the huge palm-shaped leaves, destroyed by the caterpillars, and infected trees drop their leaves early. How much damage this causes the tree is still being investigated; some studies show the tree’s growth rate is barely affected. However the tree is less able to photosynthesize and there may be a worrying effect on conker size and numbers. So if you discover a hoard of fabulous shiny conkers, peeping out of their spiky cases, enjoy this true autumn treat!
One of the most famous stories told about conkers is that they repel spiders! Those hoping to deter arachnids pop a conker in a room corner. However the Royal Society of Chemistry has debunked this myth with the help of experiments by dedicated Cornish school children. You can find their results on YouTube and watch spiders happily crawling across conker bridges.