As Autumn arrives, it's just a small matter of waiting for the trees to explode into their auburn colours, nature’s last roar of the year, before the leaves start to fall.
After the beautiful purple shades on the moorland, it's time for trees to do their thing. Our woodlands really come into their own this month, changing our view of a green landscape into one of a myriad different warm hues. You'll be rewarded with vibrant colours of red, orange, mahogany, mustard and gold, and a multitude of fading greens, as well as impressive fungi clinging to standing and fallen deadwood.
Dalby Forest is at its best in autumn. The blues and greens of pines and spruces being complemented by the golden needles of larch, the bright yellow of ash leaves, the red leaves of wild cherries and the greens, yellows and russet browns of oak. Top locations to enjoy the autumn shades in the Forest include Haygate, Crosscliff, Staindale Lake and Bickley Gate.
Also look out for:
- Fungi galore. On the forest floor the caps, spikes and spheres of fungi put in their annual appearance. Russulas and agarics grow amongst the conifer needles and faded grasses, while yellow spikes of Stag’s horn fungus and the aptly named Candle Snuff sprout from decaying stumps. As leaves rain down and moisture builds up in the soil the fungi begin to fruit. These are the fascinating shapes we see: Shaggy Inkcaps, Stinkhorn, Jelly Ear, Chicken of the Woods, Orange Peel Fungus, Puffballs and Penny Buns.
- Popular spots to hunt for fungi include woodland near Goathland, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's Little Beck Wood, and, in the Howardian Hills, Yearsley Moor and Grimston Moor. Both of these have areas of deciduous and coniferous trees, deadwood on the ground and woodland tracks. Remember to keep to footpaths and bridleways when searching for fungi in areas of privately owned woodland.
- If you'd like to find out more, especially which ones are edible, then do get yourself booked on a fungi foray event. Ryenats hold an annual event while Taste the Wild run a number of foraging courses but they are very popular, book up quick! The Yorkshire Arboretum also organise fungi forays too. Tees Valley Wildlife Trust and Whitby Naturalists also hold fungi events.
- Sloes, ripe now on blackthorn trees. Look out for them in scrubland, woodland and hedgerows on your walks. The extremely bitter purple/blue fruits are superb for making a traditional warming liqueur – sloe gin, but remember to leave some for the birds! Sloes are said to be at their best when picked after the first frosts. Whether you can wait that long is up to you but the fruit should be plump and juicy before it's picked. Sloes form on the second year’s growth so try hedges that were not cut the previous winter.
- Red deer and fallow deer rutting. Deer stags are at the peak of their fitness and are ready to battle antler to antler to gain dominance of a harem of hinds. Lots of dramatic bellowing, posturing and bashing around to intimidate their rivals ensues! Deer parks provide a great chance to see and hear this impressive natural show, but wild deer do roam around the moors too. Herds are known to graze in the clearings at the ancient woodland Ashberry Nature Reserve, near Rievaulx, maintained by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust - so a stealthy early morning visit might pay dividends.
Walks of the month
As October is the best month for autumn colour, it has to be a woodland walk or two or three...
The Yorkshire Arboretum in the Howardian Hills, with 6,000 trees and its mix of native and non-native trees is spectacular as the leaves turn rich shades of red, yellow and orange. It's a great place for a wander. Alternatively a walk on the footpaths and bridleways through the woodlands of the Hovingham Estate (pdf) are also stunning.
Back in the National Park, the 3.2 km Ellerburn walk in the prettiest corner of Thornton le Dale, follows the beck upstream to the hamlet. The stroll, along the riverside, roads and pavements, takes in a majestic row of orange beech trees and includes the Tea Cosy Tearoom at the halfway point with a lovely garden.
Yorkshire Coast Nature tips
The experts at Yorkshire Coast Nature are our eyes on the ground, here's Richard Baines' advice on what else to look out for this month.
If you go down to the beach today…
Two blobs of jelly, one red and one brown, both with a line of electric blue at the base. A riot of colour in a very weird form. These are the spectacular beadlet anemones. Look out for these crazy creatures on the side of rocks in pools, their tentacles retract when the tide is out. Despite their flower-like name they are predatory animals with 192 tentacles designed to trap passing prey. A serious contender for an underwater horror movie!
Uncovered at low tide, the tangle forest of seaweed is laid bare for explorer on the tideline. From the large trailing wracks and kelp such as toothed wrack and sugar wrack to the tiny seaweeds such as Irish moss. A wealth of amazing diversity awaits the curious.
Sugar wrack can live for up to four years and forms sweet-tasting crystals when dry. Look out for the small cream dots of winkle egg studs on this seaweed. Another strange weed to look for is thong weed, which starts life as small button like plants before bursting into long strands up to a meter long.
Look out for a silvery sheen on seaweed, this could be sea mat; a Bryozoan which can turn the weed almost completely grey. These Bryozoa are also known as ‘moss animals’. Sea Mat is a community of tiny primitive animals which filter-feed.
These amazing creatures can communicate with each other through chemical reactions. Over 6000 species of Bryozoa have been found in the sea and in freshwater environments. Scientists have become increasingly interested in a chemical called bryostatin which has properties used in the fight against cancer.
The small seaweed Irish Moss (Carragheen) can be found in a variety of colours from reddish purple to green. It contains a chemical used as a thickener in the food industry, especially popular as a replacement for gelatine in vegan cookery, a folk remedy for coughs and colds and even as an aphrodisiac.
In the Caribbean a saucy seaweed recipe involves mixing Irish moss with milk, rum and spices. There may be some truth in this tale as Irish Moss does contain manganese and vitamin E both known to contribute to fertility and sex drive. Watch this space for Yorkshire Coast Nature tours to the Caribbean soon...!
The best way to explore and find out more about these amazing plants and animals is to join a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust beach safari. YWT run regular walks on the North and East Yorkshire Coast.
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