“It is commonly observed, that when two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather; they are in haste to tell each other, what each must already know, that it is hot or cold, bright or cloudy, windy or calm”.
-Dr Samuel Johnson, 1758
The weather; one of our favourite topics of conversation! Working outdoors I regularly meet guests, golfers and dog walkers, and more often than not, the weather will feature during our exchange. The weather is something we all have in common; we all have an opinion on it, and we all love to speculate, pass comment, rejoice or lament about it. It occurred to me recently that we also spend a lot of our time counting down to events, seasons and plans. So as well as talking about the weather, we’re also commenting on how “winter’s coming, the nights are drawing in”; or perhaps it’s been talk of the Indian summer and how long it will last for. I have even heard people wishing for summer again, whilst others are counting down til Christmas! There’s certainly nothing wrong with being prepared for future events, so perhaps that’s why we like to know in advance what the weather will be like, or start preparations for events such as Christmas by filling our freezers.
At this time of year there many species in our natural world planning ahead too and you don’t have to look very far to find them. Trees start their preparations for the winter by losing their leaves, and this is simply to save the tree from storm damage by reducing its resistance to wind, ice and snow. Shedding leaves also reduces water loss at a time when replacement soil moisture is limited by low temperatures. As autumn approaches, trees reabsorb the chlorophyll from their leaves, and various other colours previously hidden are revealed. As the leaves die, red pigments are produced in great quantities from sugars that remain in the leaf; however this process requires warmth and bright light during the day and cold at night to reduce the chances of the sugars being withdrawn back into the tree. Therefore, the nature of the autumn weather dictates the quality of the autumn colours; ideal weather conditions are frequently found on the east coast of the USA which results in amazing autumn leaf displays there, but less frequently in the UK. Leaf fall is not a random process; it is actually a deliberate sequence triggered by decreasing daylight and reduced air temperature. The next time you see leaves falling from a tree, you will know that it is a result of a methodical process!
Another species (and also one of my personal favourites) currently preparing for winter is the red squirrel. The red squirrel is the original ‘Squirrel Nutkin’ of Beatrix Potter fame, and its image is often widely associated with the onset of late autumn. Despite its name, the red squirrel can actually vary in colour from cream through all shades of red and brown to black, and during the autumn red squirrels eat as much as they can to build up their fat reserves for winter. Their food will include seeds of a wide variety of trees, buds, shoots, berries; nuts, barks and fungi, and they can put on about 12% of their body weight in autumn fat. Sadly, only 120,000 red squirrels remain in Scotland, and they need as much help as possible in order to survive. The red squirrel is a fully protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and in the interests of their conservation, information on the distribution and abundance of red and grey squirrels is urgently needed. Recently I spent some time with the local red squirrel project officer for Argyll and the Trossachs to discuss how I could help red squirrels within the grounds of the resort. Red squirrel conservation is featured as one of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park’s priority areas of conservation within Wildpark 2020, so I am delighted that the information I gather will be put to good use. I have installed two feeder boxes with double sided sticky tape inside the box, and as the squirrels enter the box to collect peanuts, they leave some of their hairs on the tapes which are removed for later examination. Surprisingly it is not possible to separate red and grey squirrel hairs on the basis of colour alone, so I will be sending the hair samples away for analysis to determine what type of squirrels, if any, we have on site. Each feeder is also being monitored by a wildlife camera, on loan from the Scottish Wildlife Trust, which will help to capture photographic evidence of any peanut enthusiasts! ; More information about red squirrels can be found at http://www.lochlomond-trossachs.org/park-authority/what-we-do/conservation/red-squirrels/.
Finally, if you’re looking for a lovely woodland walk with a sprinkling of magic, have you explored The Enchanted Wood? For a bit of extra fun, pop into The Clubhouse and collect an “Enchanted Wood Fairy-Trail” question sheet. All the answers can be found in the woodland, and you never know who, or what else, you might see whilst you’re there.