We have enjoyed a largely glorious autumn devoid of grey rain lashed days with strong winds. The rather quieter weather allowed the leaves to stay on the trees and as they lost their chlorophyll they displayed a wonderful range of rusting colours which showed to best effect on sunny days. It is easy to think that this year has been the best ever in terms of autumn colour but every autumn brings a variety of colour which we tend to forget as the season moves on. Even now those colourful leaves lie is deep carpets beneath the trees.
In addition to the turning leaves many of the shrubs and trees are carrying huge crops of berries which add to the colourful spectacle and enjoyment of a good walk along the riverside or the Valley Trail. The hips of the dog rose and haws of the hawthorn are already providing gourmet meals for birds including flocks of fieldfares and redwings which have arrived from northern climes to spend the winter with us. They can soon strip a tree of its crop of haws but those berries help to keep the birds in good condition to survive whatever the winter has to throw at them. When disturbed by an approaching walker fieldfares rise up in small scolding flocks only to fall back again like wind-blown leaves into the hedgerows a little further on.
The British Trust for Ornithology has suggested that this winter may be a good one for seeing waxwings and the Valley Trail is a favoured feeding area for these colourful birds. East Anglia is the first port of call for waxwings as they migrate away from cold weather in the east and north in the search for food. If they do arrive in good numbers they will be easy to spot because they are relatively approachable and can be seen in gardens and even supermarket car parks where berry-bearing shrubs have been planted. Any berries that are not consumed by birds will fall to the ground and provide a feast for small mammals. While we are in our warm houses it is all about survival in the great outdoors for our winter wildlife.
The dry open autumn certainly helped the cattle get the best from the pastures towards the end of the season. They still looked very fit and fat as they went on their way to their winter quarters, either at Waldingfield or Nayland and by mid-November they had all gone. They have done a really wonderful job and we can all look forward to tremendous displays of buttercups and other flowers next year.
Throughout the winter months the riverside landscape looks empty as if something is missing from it and it is true that without the grazing cattle it is a very different place. However, with the shortest day of the year fast approaching it will be downhill all the way to spring and a new revival and rebirth. In the meantime there is plenty of winter work to be carried out.
All the fencing has to be checked and stakes replaced where they have rotted off as poor fencing allows cattle to stray. Numerous trees will need re-pollarding before the branches become rather top-heavy and there is plenty of coppicing and a lot of other tree surgery to be done where trees are leaning or growing too near buildings or other structures. There will also be some planting to increase the number of alder trees which provide essential food for small seed eating birds through the winter. Fortunately these tasks are warm work for cold winter weather.