The clocks have now gone back and winter’s dark is with us, along with more typical colder conditions following the extended period of unseasonable warmth. This is the fourth consecutive mild autumn by our count in our evidently changing climate, as shown by a new Met Office climate change report that shows significant warming over the past decade along with increased extreme weather events.
The leaves are now falling from the trees and plants are shutting down their growth in anticipation of the winter dormancy. In the fields meanwhile, many farmers are now applying chemical treatments of fertilisers and herbicides to boost the growth of their autumn-sown crops and reduce competition from weeds. The seasonal produce of cauliflowers and parsnips are now being harvested and are available in the shops. Out to sea meanwhile, Cod and Herring come inshore now to breed and spawn in the shallow waters before moving back offshore again.
The woods are rich with autumnal hues of yellows, reds and browns, prior to all the leaves falling from the broadleaf trees. Tree fruits and nuts are also raining down from the trees, including acorns and beech nuts. Many of these are in turn collected by Jays and Squirrels for their winter food store, although a few always escape or are forgotten to sprout as new tree seedlings come the spring time.
On the ground, bizarre and colourful fungi are now emerging from the damp leaf litter of our woods and grassy meadows, or sprouting for their annual appearance from dead tree trunks. Along boundaries, the prolific feathery blooms of the chalk-loving Old Man’s Beard lines fences and footpaths, sometimes alongside the bright poisonous red berries of the now leafless scrambling Black Bryony.
Great gatherings of large Harlequin (or Halloween) ladybirds – an invasive species from Asia – have been evident on warm days over the past month, all of whom will now be looking to overwinter in sheltered spots including around window frames and in outhouses. Such places are similarly a favourite haunt for overwintering adult butterflies such as Red Admirals too.
Flocks of tits and finches can be seen flitting amongst tree branches, and members of the crow family (Magpies, Crows, Rooks and Jackdaws) are prominent too. Hard to miss are the rapidly growing flocks of Starlings, their numbers boosted by migrant birds from lands to the north, to form the nightly “murmurations” that are such a special feature of Brighton’s seafront in the winter months.
Much harder to find (especially these days, as their numbers decline) are Hedgehogs, that are now entering their winter hibernation. Watch out for them bedding down in bonfire sites however, and check the pile carefully before setting light to just one side of it – to enable any present to escape on Guy Fawke’s night!