Autumn is well and truly here. Time to embrace the jumpers and scarves and enjoy the wonderful colours that nature treats us to at this time of year.
It sometimes feels like all things nature are quietening down in autumn but there’s actually still a fair amount of busyness going on. Some of it is just a little bit more behind the scenes!
The trees at Panshanger Park are starting to show their yellow, orange and red hues before they gradually start to drop their leaves which creates food for detritivores such as worms, woodlice and millipedes. These often-overlooked yet vital critters busily chomp their way through the dead leaves as well as dead wood, animal carcasses and faeces. The waste products from this process creates rich organic soil called humus that the surrounding plants can in turn take the nutrients from to grow. Nature’s own recycling system!
Fungi also use fallen leaves for nutrition. They are decomposers breaking down the leaves using special enzymes to access the nutrients. Autumn is the best time of year to see fungi. And Panshanger Park is no exception- look out for parasol and field mushrooms as well as the bracket fungus found on the veteran trees.
Lots of trees produce seeds and nuts at this time of year. Horse chestnuts and sweet chestnuts generate nuts along with oaks bearing acorns. A familiar sight to all of us is watching a squirrel busily burying acorns often finishing off with a satisfied pat of the ground as if to solidify exactly where it’s been buried. Wood mice too are known to bury huge numbers of acorns every year.
Jays also collect and bury acorns – up to 3000 per individual each Autumn! Some of these are definitely going to be forgotten over winter and so these animals are doing a great job at aiding seed dispersal on behalf of the trees. Squirrel, jay or wood mouse, I wonder which buried the acorn which has grown for nearly five hundred years into Panshanger Park’s great oak which stands so majestically today?
Panshanger Park has many large veteran trees which are dropping conkers, sweet chestnuts and acorns at the moment. Look out for all the wildlife taking advantage of these. And if you’d like to learn more about Autumn at Panshanger come along with the family to our half term activities. More information at https://www.hertswildlifetrust.org.uk/events
Right through the autumn and winter months there are plenty of volunteering opportunities at Panshanger Park. If you would be interested in helping with conservation work or events within the park more information can be found at https://panshangerpark.tarmac.com/volunteering/
Jo Whitaker is the Panshanger Park People and Wildlife Officer.
She works for Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust and her role is funded by Tarmac.
Above – Fallen oak leaves at Panshanger Park
Below – Jay collecting an acorn © Margaret Holland