Tuesday, 10 December 2013

A Season of Abundance

We’ve travelled far and wide in the south of the country east to west and back again, from Essex to Somerset, Wiltshire, Kent, Cambridge, more Essex, Norfolk, Surrey and Hertfordshire. We’ve stopped in Buckinghamshire and Suffolk, taken a spin through South Gloucester. We’ve probably made short stops in other counties but the specifics escape me. The one thing that we can confirm by observation is that this has been a bumper year in the hedgerow, well everywhere ... except on the  Hazels/Cobbnuts bushes (theory to follow). Most Hazels get cut back immediately after flowering (Catkins), therefore the pollinated catkins don’t develop nuts (and most domestic Hazels are clones so don’t seed, if I remember right, though that may just be the tortuosa (twisted) ). I reckon you need to get into deep woods or off limits field margins where Mr Farmer doesn’t need to flail to find Cobbs (I did once while on a weekend away in Wales shooting).

In all other ways I have been amazed at the volume of berries, drupes, seeds and spores on the ground and on the trees of southern England. We've seen Yews in every county laden with fruit (so much so that I have made the call on them being Holly trees at a distance), we’ve seen hollies equally laden, and Wild roses covered with rose hips, Beech Mast carpets, Acorns strewn so thick the ground was crunchy, Ash keys hanging like clumps of flat grapes. Black, Cloud and Rowan Berries by the million, Horse Chestnuts and Sweet Chestnuts (which we collected cooked and added to home-made beef burgers). 

In Langdon Hills country park (Essex) Amanda smelled Apples from yards away, and picked plums from a hedgerow spiny dividing corn and pasture fields in Somerset. Hawthorns and Pyracantha have been smothered, but our old favourite the sloe is very patchy this year (a repeat of the 2012 season where by the very late spring meant the bees were scarce, and the fruit hasn't been set ... pollinated). And finally I don’t think I've ever seen the country so bearded in the Old Mans Beard as this year; motorway verges, shrub layers near woods, it’s a Lonicera periclymenum bonanza, a grey mist of fluff in the verges.

Plants are not the only thing in abundance, fungi of every shape and size*; tiny white mushrooms looking like trees growing among the moss’s on vertical green cliffs from boles of trees and rocks. From the windy slopes of Brean Down, through boggy fields, leaf littered woods and among the regimented rows of coniferous plantation. All standing like soldiers among the clumps and humps of fallen pine needles where wood ants room, these little life-forms that mean coal may never be produced by a fallen tree ever again. 

Dry ones, slimy ones, woody ones, giant ones, yellow ones, red ones, spotty ones, a purple one (Amethyst Deceiver), dinner plate and soup bowl sized pixie stools, Jew ears balconies and terraces on fallen logs. Great pyramids of brackets in hollows and cracks, or consuming the stumps they have enveloped, looking like miniature alien cities of organic rock and living buildings; all populated by those little critters who can walk up walls, or flit between shrub and branch ... and sometimes stopping by on us to find out whether our blood is good.

If there is such a thing as the best set table for our hard pressed creatures after three really hard winters, then in our humble opinion, this is the reward year for lean years. If the UK economy could bounce back and feed all of us the same way that this year’s combined seasons have done for the little blighters that make our varied countryside so alive all year round, we could pave the streets with gold.

*we’ll post a selection of photos in a separate blog.

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