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The Art of Natural Forest Practice
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Autumn - preparing for winter;
a time for fruits and the forest goes to sleep.
Iliff’s ancient woodland from Coed Nant Gain, in Wales
Photos by members of Mold Camera Club and Iliff
October 2011

  Autumn is a special time of year.  There’s ample food for everyone; berries, seeds, nuts, fruits, insects and creepy crawlies abound.  On the holly and yew (one of three indigenous conifers in Britain) the berries are vivid red contrasting with the evergreen leaves; ivy clinging to the trees has flowered providing the last source of nectar for insects before winter (important for honey bees); the elder berries are ripe making such good jellies and wine; the guelder rose berries are bright red; dragon flies abound and where sunlight penetrates the woodland a myriad of micro-insects are busy, too small and fleet on the wing to photograph.  The migratory birds (Field Fares) have arrived from Scandinavia and are singing with joy I trust at being in this garden of Eden.  The Greater Spotted Woodpeckers are still making a lot of noise for it may have had a second brood, and is chasing its young out of the woodland and the Tawny owls are busy calling to establish their territories.  The woodland is alive with activity and really challenging to photograph!
There should also be berries on the honeysuckle, wild roses, spindle and rowan, but not this year, the soil is far too dry and there are very few fungi.  Even the acorns fell early before they were ripe.  Indeed the soil is so dry that just under the surface it’s powder-dry.
It’s been a strange year with only one month (up to October) having significantly above average rainfall and only 70% of the normal rainfall  This is likely to be the reason why the autumn colours are so disappointing and people are saying it’s very odd.  The colours came with a rush in September, a month early, taking us quite by surprise and so no photos.  Autumn proper is late yet the colours are continuing right into November!  My page by page diary records that frosts frequently occur at this time, causing the leaves to fall (indeed it’s been -3o C already in the first week of November, a rare event).
Now the woodland is closing down for winter and after being opaque and mysterious all summer is turning translucent, so that we are beginning to see into the woodland again.  The eye has an incredible ability to focus on details and colours that defeat the camera.
In October we strimmed the woodland rides and raked out the matted decaying material, encouraging the wild flowers seeds to germinate and blossom next year.  By mid-November all the leaves will have fallen heralding the start of forest work for the winter.  We surveyed the woodland glades when the sun was at its highest (June) and noted where a little more light should reach the woodland floor (there’s a web page in preparation describing this).  We’ve also made a note of where there are seedling trees we can move to places where there is little or nothing germinating.  We call this trans-planting, for being an ancient woodland it is very important to maintain the genetic stock and not pollute it further with plants of unknown or unsuited origin.  We must make an early start on this whilst the soil still has some residual warmth.  The last two winters have been unusually severe, freezing the ground hard and completely disrupting our trans-planting.
All in all this presents a graphic picture of the effect of weather extremes and maybe a foretaste of climate change to come?
Your comments please from your part of the world, the global contrast will be most illuminating.  You can use the Guest Book or click on the ‘Contact us’ and send an email.
By the way, can someone please explain why most plants shed their leaves at this time of year?