Last month, I said that after a somewhat wet summer, I hoped we’d be in for an ‘Indian Summer’ and following one of the wettest July’s on record, September saw consecutive days over 30 degrees! Some argue that to be considered a true Indian Summer, unseasonably warm and dry autumn spells must arrive after the first proper frost – so I’m very much hoping there’ll be clement weather ahead, but perhaps not to the extremes we experienced last month!
When the weather remains fine, we can make the most of the dwindling day length and enjoying wildlife without resorting to our cumbersome winter wardrobes. In autumn I often write about the delights of vivid colours present in our woods and hedgerows as most trees prepare to shed their leaves before the winter shut down. As autumn progresses, trees produce less chlorophyll – the chemical essential to enabling trees to harness energy from sunlight. As remaining chlorophyll is reabsorbed by the tree, the relative level of green pigment in the leaves reduces – allowing the yellows and oranges so synonymous with autumn to shine.
The humble silver birch provides one of the most spectacular showings of our native trees – enabling it to stand out from its often larger, more showy competitors. Its golden leaves, set against its naturally pale bark are a real delight and well worth looking out for – especially on breezy days when its relatively small leaves, held on a framework of uber thin branches, seem to dance on the wind.
The silver birch’s capacity to colonise a wide range of soil types, its spreading roots which help unlock valuable nutrients not accessible to other trees and fast growth which provides shelter for other tree seedlings means it is vital in helping new woodlands establish. Being a super-efficient coloniser, it is sometimes seen as the support act, paving the way for larger, longer-lived trees such as ash and oak to establish, but this Cinderella species is a vital support for wildlife.
It provides food and shelter for over 300 insect species – its leaves are the food of choice for many caterpillars and attracts aphids – which in turn provide sustenance for ladybirds and other creatures higher up the food chain. As a relatively short-lived species, it supports a range of fungi, including the distinctive birch polypore or razor strop – so often seen wrapped around their trunks. As trees die and begin to hollow out, larger specimens provide refuge woodpeckers and other hole nesting species.
So, whatever the weather this autumn, keep any eye out for these delightful trees, and if you’re thinking of planting a tree in your garden this winter, a birch could be just the ticket. Their relatively small size makes them a great choice as a specimen tree. In addition to their dazzling papery bark and shimmering leaves, their attractive seed bearing catkins and the range of insects the tree supports will also attract birds including tits and finches.
Details of ways you can take action for nature – along with information about the Trust’s nature reserves, events and campaigns can be found at www.nottinghamshirewildlife.org.
Main image: Silver Birch canopy, 2020 Vision