Autumn has always been my favourite time of year. Whether or not it is because I was born in the Autumn, I don’t know, but there is something that gets to me about Autumn. So much is going on in Autumn. The trees are setting fruit. There is so much to harvest and use around the hedgerows and in the trees and gardens. The leaves are changing colour, whether it is a subtle change in variegation and veining, or whether they are advertising their demise with an exuberant mix of oranges, yellows and reds. Small creatures are scurrying around in the trees and hedgerows laying in stores of food for hibernation or to last through the winter. The countryside has a mature, golden colour of harvested grass and grain. I love it.
It is also the time of year you turn your mind to the tasks ahead in the wood. The Spring and Summer are wonderful times with a profusion of green and insects and flowers and singing birds. However you are fairly limited in what can be done at the woods because of the need to avoid nesting birds in Summer and hibernating mammals in the deep winter. So Autumn is when you need to plan and get things done.
Last weekend we went on a coppicing course to learn about this ancient wood activity, now gaining in popularity again. More importantly, establishing a coppiced area or two in our woods will increase habitats for wildlife, and allow a proper three layer structure to be created that is missing in so much of the wood. We have areas of dense scrub with no ground layer, areas of high forest with no scrub but a good ground layer in the dappled sunshine, and areas of bramble crowding out everything and preventing development of any layer other than bramble.
Some of these areas we want to keep, but establishing a coppice would certainly help open up some of the denser areas, allowing selection of new standard trees, and development of useful scrub (hawthorn, willow and hazel, rather than elder). In time it will bring sustainable sources of wood to our woods. Right now, what we have to do is think, and plan, and carefully select the areas we need to fell to create regeneration and regrowth, of which coppicing is a part.
In the meantime, I’m enjoying the Autumn. The birds are quieter, the mammals are noisier and bolder, and the woods is buzzing with frantic activity. The trees are taking a deep breath and screaming their temporary demise as they prepare for winter, with the promise of another year ahead. I’m also enjoying the bounty provided by nature – the blackberries which are coming to an end, the elderberries which are bubbling away in a demijohn producing wine for next year, and the crab apple and rowan jelly that I made last week. Autumn is definitely my favourite time of year. Let us hope by next Autumn we have an established coppice and a productive wood again.