September is the formal start of (meteorological) Autumn, and the autumnal equinox falls on 22nd September – marking the point when the Sun shines directly on the equator, resulting in equal lengths of day and night across the world.
Cooler nights and fresh dewy mornings are upon us, and the natural world responds to these signals by winding down its activity levels, whilst offering us the annual fruits of its labours in the form of food to harvest or forage for. Farmers have now harvested their cereal crops, and are ploughing the land and drilling it with autumn-sown crops. Many vegetables and fruits, such as beans and apples, are ripe for commercial harvest now. There’s also plenty of wild food foraging opportunities too, including Blackberries in hedgerows and along road verges: perfect for making crumble. The annual Apple Day at Stanmer Park has been suspended this year due to Covid-19 restrictions and will relaunch in 2021 as a celebration of apples throughout the year – why not share your memories of previous Apple Days and your thoughts on what to include in future events.
Many plants are starting to shut down and die back for winter, with trees beginning to turn colour and lose their leaves. The bright fruits of Rose hips, Hawthorn ‘haws’ and Sloe berries stand out to demand our attention however. Shiny conkers also emerge from the split spiky cases of Horse Chestnut fruits littering the ground. Acorns from Oak trees are gathered up by Jays and Squirrels to be stashed away safely for their winter food supply, although some are inevitably forgotten and hence can sprout to become new trees. Ivy flowers in autumn with its often-overlooked yellow-green blooms, which are very attractive and important to a wide range of Bees and other pollinating insects. Mushrooms are starting to emerge spurred on by the cooler damp conditions, including noteworthy occurrences like the Giant Puffball in old grassland or foul-smelling phallic Stinkhorn in woods, which attracts flies to spread its spores.
Many insects are still on the wing, such as the clumsy flight of Craneflies or ‘Daddy Long Legs’ which are abundant over grassland and lawns. Common species of butterflies are still on the wing, including large numbers of “Cabbage Whites” as well as Red Admirals that like to nectar on fallen fruits. Spiders too are at peak numbers, with their ornate webs seemingly glistening everywhere in the morning dew.
Autumn fruits also provide a much needed feast for birds and other animals to fatten up before the winter sets in. It’s time to say farewell however to any last migrant Swifts and Swallows, that return south to overwinter in Africa, although we in turn receive many of our winter ‘garden birds’ such as Thrushes from areas farther north. Plus keep an eye out in due course for winter wader birds such as Redshank arriving on our coast and estuaries.
Check out our ‘Explore The Living Coast’ interactive map for more information and inspiration on the world around us!