The onset of winter’s cold darkness has now arrived, following the recent unseasonably mild conditions – as we have now experienced for the last three consecutive autumns, more evidence of our warming world in which greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached their highest ever recorded concentrations.
The leaves are now falling from the trees and plants are shutting down their growth in anticipation of the winter dormancy. In the fields meanwhile, many farmers are now applying chemical treatments of fertilisers and herbicides to boost the growth of their autumn-sown crops and reduce competition from weeds. The seasonal produce of cauliflowers and parsnips are now being harvested and are available in the shops. Out to sea meanwhile, Cod and Herring come inshore now to breed and spawn in the shallow waters before moving back offshore again.
The woods are rich with autumnal hues of yellows, reds and browns, prior to all the leaves falling from the broadleaf trees. Other things are also raining down from the trees, in the form of their fruits and nuts including acorns and beech nuts. Many of these are in turn collected by Jays and Squirrels for their winter food store, although a few always escape or are forgotten to sprout as new tree seedlings come the spring time.
On the ground, bizarre and colourful fungi are now emerging from the damp leaf litter of our woods and grassy meadows, or sprouting for their annual appearance from dead tree trunks. Along boundaries, prolific feathery blooms of the chalk-loving Old man’s beard lines fences and footpaths, sometimes alongside the bright poisonous red berries of the now leafless scrambling Black Bryony.
Great clusters of large Harlequin (or Halloween) ladybirds, an invader species from Asia, can be found gathering on window frames and in outhouses – a favourite haunt for overwintering adult butterflies such as Red Admirals too.
Flocks of tits and finches can be seen flitting amongst tree branches, and members of the crow family (Magpies, Crows, Rooks and Jackdaws) are prominent too. Hard to miss are the rapidly growing flocks of Starlings, their numbers boosted by migrant birds from lands to the north, a special feature of Brighton’s seafront in the winter.
Much harder to find (especially these days, as their numbers decline) are Hedgehogs, that are now entering their winter hibernation. Watch out for them bedding down in bonfire sites however, and check the pile carefully before setting light to just one side of it – to enable any present to escape on Guy Fawke’s night!