Originally published October 2016
Hello everyone! Here we are enjoying a pleasant Indian Summer in our corner of the country despite having to face the fact that we are in the final quarter of the year. The Autumn Equinox (Latin aequus – equal + nox– night) 22nd September, marked the time of year when day and night were of roughly the same length. From now until the Spring Equinox in March we will have more hours of darkness than daylight and the growing season, for our Flora at least, is coming to an end.
Flowers have gone to seed, bushes are full of berries and the trees are starting to adorn themselves in their multi-coloured mantles ready to shed them in a flurry of post-photosynthetic fervour, an event described most eloquently by a young pal of mine:
Red, orange, yellow and brown…
These are the colours that are falling down.
I see them fly, flutter and float…
When they’re on water they sail like a boat.
Hannah Massey, age 10 (2016)
The one aspect of this award-winning verse (well done Hannah!) that we are lacking on our little reserve is the water for the leaves to float upon. Despite June being the wettest on record our pond is at its lowest level for several years. Fortunately for our pond Fauna, it has been in the last few weeks only that the water receded into the deeper end near the rock face. Although we did not see any spawn this year we can be confident that the resident Amphibians will have a good chance of breeding successfully.
I hope that visitors to Quarry Wood during the Summer took as much delight in the sight of the small, black balls of fluff scampering over the pond weed under the watchful eye of an adult Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus), as I did. The chicks may well have been under the care of an older brother or, more likely, sister from an earlier brood. Moorhens can be seen all the year around and I hope they stay with us in Quarry Wood to see the pond recharged over the Winter.
When we acquired the wood at the end of the 1990s one of our first tasks was to open up the canopy around the pond.This involved cutting back numerous Willow trees (Salix spp.) that were growing in the water. Seventeen years on and we have several saplings sprouting from where those original trees were felled, their fibrous roots burrowing into the silt.
Even where some large Willows fell into the pond, the tenacious trees sent out clumps of roots from their trunks into the water and we had formidable Willow screens segmenting the pond into smaller areas. The QW working parties have been taking full advantage of the low water levels to get stuck in (quite literally at times) and remove a few years’ worth of wood from the pond. The greatest challenge was an Ivy-clad lady-of the Wood, a casualty of the high winds of two years ago and firmly lodged in the deep end. However, the workers rose to the occasion and unleashed their version of Superman, Will Kemp in a fetching waterproof onesie! He took the plunge and with much sawing, slipping and hauling on ropes, the Birch was removed from the water.
The level of the pond is not the only clue, albeit a rather large one, indicating the dearth of rain over the Summer. Some trees are very sensitive to drought conditions and have been showing their displeasure for many weeks. Chief among these are the Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum). Yes, our beloved Conker Trees have been looking especially ragged lately. The leaves are brown and shrivelled making them a sorry sight amidst the green, gold and red of the other trees.
Given that every Chestnut tree around is affected in the same way I suspect that water stress is the cause of their plight. That said, there are a number of diseases and parasites attacking A. hippocastanum at present but that sorry tale can wait for another time!
In the meantime, celebrate Mabon, enjoy Ma Nature’s seasonal bounty and make sure you take time to glory in the sight of our Autumnal spectacle.
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