Brian Fereday’s Nature notes were written on his monthly walks around our farm trail. Brian lived and worked in this landscape and knew it intimately. We are lucky to have his records of the changing seasons and the comings and goings of the flora and fauna throughout the years. Here we revisit his November walk.
The short respite from rain and wind at the end of October has allowed the leaves long enough to change into red and gold and many shades in between. This is especially so in the Low Park Wood section of the walk where the beech trees are very beautiful with their grey stems and brilliant colours.
On walking down the side of the beck and in fact all the way to the edge of Low Park Wood you will see hedgerow trees, some very old, which were written about last month. If you look carefully, you can see how many of these are ash trees. It’s a very worrying situation when one thinks of how the landscape could change especially in our area as the bigger trees, so distinctive on the land could die from the ash fungal disease which has arrived in the country and seems to be spreading rapidly. Of course in woodlands the situation is the same. A good deal of the woodland that the farm walk runs through has been geared to growing ash for timber and many trees are under threat. As far as is known the disease has not arrived in our area but it is airborne and so can spread easily.
When walking through the fields on the way to the gate into the woods, look out for winter visitors among the birds. You might see some noisy, large thrushes searching for berries on the hawthorns. These are Fieldfares, arrivals from Scandinavia, with smaller, quieter Redwings, also avoiding the northern winter.
In the woods, another stage is beginning. Fallen leaves are beginning to return to the soil to be recycled into the woodland ecosystem. Some species’ leaves disappear faster than others, however, eventually, all are recycled back into the trees they came from. The actions of fungi, micro-organisms, bugs, beetles and of course earthworms are so important in this process. Just looking under a layer of leaves can reveal this hidden world. Sometimes this world is more obvious as in places along the path fungi have appeared on dead wood and tree stumps. At this stage, they are sending out spores, similar to seeds, into the air to reproduce the next generation of fungi. Sometimes the underground parts of these fungi can cover a considerable distance under the woodland floor. It’s not only leaves and light material that is broken down in this way. The large branches you can see and whole fallen trees are undergoing the same process.
Near the end of the woodland, the National Trust foresters have been felling trees. This is part of the long-term plan for the restoration of native woodland to the 1950’s plantation areas of the woodland. Over the next ninety years, every ten years an area of around two acres of woodland is felled and planted with native species. This is to encourage the wildlife associated with native woodland to spread in from the lower parts of the wood. Trees are left to grow on to become ancient without ever being felled and clearings are made to accommodate wildlife and plants that need lighter, more temporary environments. Alongside this is an expectation to produce some timber in the future. This work will continue throughout the winter.
As one completes the walk, one realises that nothing is still in nature. Already the story of next spring is being written. Just look out for a hazel tree on the path and you will see catkins appearing,