Autumn Fruits

Wildlife

Autumn Fruits

by Jez Elkin, Conservation Coordinator at Sheepdrove Organic Farm

With the start of October it feels like Autumn is really with us.

guelder roseThe harvest has (hopefully) been gathered from the fields, but there is another, equally important harvest all around us. The fruits of our hedgerow, field and woodland wild plants are ripening.

Plants have developed many strategies for dispersing their seeds. Blackberries, and fruit on shrubs such as Guelder Rose (see left) and Dog Rose are eaten by birds, small mammals and bigger mammals (including us). The sweet flesh is swallowed and the seeds remain undigested and are excreted out. When done by wildlife this effectively plants the seed well away from the parent plant and with a healthy dose of fertiliser.  Other fruit, like sloes for example have a larger single hard stone at the centre. Some species may swallow and regurgitate the stone, while others pick at the flesh and leave the stone when finished.

fieldfare200 Large numbers of birds migrate every winter from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe to feed on our winter berries.  These include large numbers of Blackbirds – whose numbers are swollen by millions from the continent each winter, and their relatives, the winter thrushes, Fieldfares (see right) and Redwings.  On harsh years, the UK is also visited by large numbers of the beautiful and charismatic Waxwing. Though traditionally an east coast species, the last two winters have seen larger than average numbers in Berkshire.

Think of a dandelion clock, with seeds floating on the breeze.  This is a strategy designed to spread seeds as far afield as possible.  Some trees such as ash and sycamore use a similar tactic – with their aerodynamically engineered keys and helicopters.

However acorns and other nuts tend to plummet, rather than float.  There is no advantage in lots of young trees growing up in the shadow of their parent. They will struggle for light, water and nutrition and will not thrive.

So where is the advantage in producing these types of seed?

Firstly, as trees are so long lived they do not need a large number of offspring to grow each year (those of you living next to ash trees may disagree!).  Therefore they put a large amount of energy and resources into each, very large seed.

These seeds provide a tempting and delicious source of food for lots of different animals (including humans). Some of these, including Squirrels and Jays, collect up the nuts, take them away from the tree and bury them, to tide them over through those cold winter months.  Over this period they are able to find most of the hidden nuts, but some are left forgotten, and these are then given the chance to develop into trees.

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