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Autumn Falls

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Posted: Thursday 2nd November 2017 by WildBlog

By Bernie D’Arcy, Living Landscape Manager

Winter is just around the corner and the evenings are drawing in, so now is a great time to venture into the woods to enjoy the spectacular Autumn colour display. Within many woodlands it’s a time of dramatic change. Most notably the leaves of deciduous trees have begun turning vibrant shades of gold, purple and crimson; depending on the species. The beautiful colour shift in the canopy is coupled with showers of leaf fall and the crunchy carpet it creates beneath our feet. Priors Wood in Portbury and Leigh Woods just outside Bristol put on very beautiful colour displays at this time of year, including stunning golden Beech and rusty brown Oak leaves.

The woodland feels more open in the Autumn. As the leaves fall the trees begin to expose their secrets such as the cracks, crevices and holes that the small mammals are stock piling with foraged supplies for the Winter or readying to bed down until Spring. Squirrels can be spotted more easily racing from tree to tree with their prized hazelnuts and the birds are busy stripping the last of the berries. On the ground, fallen leaves, sweet chestnut shells and other woodland material are broken down by bacteria, a wide variety of fungi, earthworms and other organisms. The decomposed leaves restock the soil with nutrients to allow the woodland to continue thriving.

I’m always filled with a sense of wonderment as leaves rain down at this time of year. It is usually more windy in the colder months but this weather is far from being the sole cause of leaf fall. A reduction in surface area does reduce the ‘sail’ effect and likelihood of becoming windblown, however, trees are very sensitive to light levels and the process of both the leaf fall and colour changes are triggered by changes in light levels. Deciduous or broadleaf trees are amazingly complex and purposefully shed their leaves as a self-preservation and energy saving mechanism. The fluid passing through their leaves would be vulnerable to freezing so they are dropped, reducing the trees to the hardier trunk, limbs and branches until Spring comes around. Conversely Evergreen leaves can live several years before falling, their needles have evolved over many years with a waxy coating and their cells contain chemicals that can withstand the cold winter temperatures.

Have a look at our reserves page on our website to find out where to go to enjoy an autumn woodland walk, and keep an eye on our events page for details of guided woodland walks this season.

Photos by Julie Doherty. 

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