“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”
The mists may have given way to lashing rain at the moment, but this line from Keats’ poem, Ode to Autumn, has been in my mind awhile.
Autumn – the time that leaves change colour and drop, gently swirling, from trees, when the air is colder and the dying bracken gives another colour to the landscape. (Unless you are somewhere like my home, Pembrokeshire, where the leaves quickly turn a dry, crinkled brown and are stripped off their branches by the strong winds, with no lovely colours in between!) It’s also the time of berries and acorns – lots and lots of acorns! Have you noticed the masses of acorns beneath oak trees this year? It is a certainly a great mast year. ‘Mast’ is an old name for the fruit of trees and the Welsh word for acorns, ‘mes‘, is similar. A good mast year simply means one in which there is a particular proliferation of acorns or beech nuts or sweet chestnuts etc – whenever one species produces huge amount of fruit.
Why are such huge amounts produced some years and not others? The Woodland Trust has an interesting article about it here. It suggests that if trees produce far more fruit than is likely to be eaten by animals or birds, then more of the seeds or nuts have a chance of germinating. Too many to eat, or hide away for later months, means more to germinate. Of course, of those, only a few will survive to grow into trees. Last year, for example, Coed Cae Fali had little baby beech saplings all over the ground, but this year only a few of those have remained. (It’s possible that some goat or sheep has got in and eaten them.) The natural re-generation of trees doesn’t occur as easily as you might think.
That is one reason for growing and planting out trees – to give nature a helping hand. The National Trust have a new tree nursery in Snowdonia where they hope to grow up to 20,000 trees a year. The Snowdonia Society have been invited to be involved over the next few years. So we have begun by collecting several thousand acorns and other tree seeds. We hoped to also collect tree seeds for The Woodland Trust with whom we’ve often worked, but lockdown has put a hold on those plans.
Locally-collected seeds mean that the trees grown from them will be of ‘local provenance’: they are much more likely to thrive in the local climate than trees bought from a nursery that may have originated a long way away. It also avoids the risk of disease from far away places. The infamous ash die-back disease that is devastating ash trees across Britain probably reached our country via trees grown on the continent for British suppliers.
We will lose a lot of trees across Britain to ash die-back in the next few years, similarly to how elms were lost to Dutch elm disease a few decades ago. So now is the time to be collecting acorns and other native tree seeds, growing and eventually planting them out. This way we can contribute to increasing tree cover, which stabilises the soil on steep slopes, helps reduce the risk of flooding, increases biodiversity of insects, lichens and all sorts of wildlife and provides ‘wildlife corridors’ of cover from prey for small animals.
Look out for further news of our involvement both with the National Trust and Woodland Trust in tree-related matters. This winter we look forward to helping plant trees in various parts of Snowdonia as part of our partners’ long-term conservation plans…depending on what the coronavirus situation allows us to do safely, of course.