Autumn on the Hills and Holes

With Autumn comes the sheep, who keep the coarse grasses and weeds growing on the nature reserve in check. And that means another hazard to avoid – sheep poo! Happily, sheep poo is not offensive (unlike the dog mess left behind by some irresponsible dog owners). Sheep only digest about 50% of the plant material that they eat, so their poo is mostly cellulose. Did you know that it can be used to make paper? A firm in Wales sells it – I don’t intend to try making it myself though!

Many of the plants that grow on the Hills and Holes have now produced seed, and are dying down for the winter. Why not see how many different kinds of seed head you can spot? Other plants overwinter as flat rosettes, which allows them to avoid getting eaten by the aforementioned sheep.

Woody plants are also closing down for winter and trees will be losing their leaves. The silver birch leaves often turn a rich yellow before they fall. This is due to the breakdown of the green pigment chlorophyll, which is triggered by the change in day length. Once the chlorophyll has been withdrawn, other pigments in the leaves can be seen – carotene is the one that gives the yellow shades.

Trees and shrubs may also produce fruit. Elder is a common plant on the reserve, and elderberries are eagerly taken by small birds. That’s why our cars get purple splotches on them! Blackberries can also have this effect. Rowan berries are bright orange and are loved by blackbirds. There are apples on the reserve, both native crab apples and trees that are derived from cultivated varieties.

In the scrubby parts of the reserve you might see long strings of red berries draped over the vegetation – these are probably the fruits of a Bryony, either White Bryony or Black Bryony. Don’t eat them, they are poisonous.

spindle-04555Along the western boundary you might find the fruits of the Spindle, which are striking in pink and orange. Over in the wooded section, there is a walnut tree, and you may be able to find a hazel bearing its distinctive nuts in green wrappers – quite rare on the reserve, although common in hedgerows in the area. These are very popular with squirrels and other small mammals.

Funnel-04550Autumn is the season for spotting fungi. We have very little information on the fungi present on the reserve, so if you do see any while visiting, please let us know through the Contacts page or on Facebook.

I hope you can come and enjoy the autumn at Barnack Hills and Holes very soon – there is always something to see!