How leaf peeping is our favourite autumn activity

Trees ablaze with autumn colour at Bodnant Garden, Wales

With the first signs of autumn gradually starting to sweep across the country, new research reveals that Britons are turning into a nation of 'leaf peepers', with autumn colour voted as our favourite thing about the season.

A YouGov poll we commissioned found that nearly a third (30 per cent) of British adults chose seeing autumn colour as their favourite aspect of autumn. Defined as watching leaves turning and falling from trees, autumn colour was voted ahead of the build up to Christmas, autumn cooking, autumn telly and Halloween*.

'Leaf peeping' is a trend which first started in the United States and parts of Canada – and is the informal term for people travelling to view and photograph autumn colour.

The survey also revealed that the pandemic has increased our engagement with trees with a quarter of adults (28 per cent) saying they have noticed trees more now compared to before the first lockdown.

Key findings

  • Nearly three quarters (71 per cent) of adults said they take notice of how trees change throughout the year, with over a third (37 per cent) saying they take considerable notice
  • After autumn colour, Britons' favourite things about the season are spending time in nature – running, walking or cycling (13 per cent) and the weather – cold crisp days, Indian summer, or stormy days (12 per cent)
  • Just under a quarter of Brits (22 per cent) voted for autumn as their favourite season**
  • Autumn is most popular with younger adults with 18–24-year-olds voting it as their joint favourite season (tied with summer at 29 per cent)
" These findings show that people have a real love and appreciation of trees and of the natural sights of autumn. We can see that people are still saying they are closer to nature than they were before the pandemic began and we hope it’s here to stay."
- Celia Richardson, National Trust Director of Communications and Audience

Help protect trees for the future

As well as sharing these findings, we're asking people to get outside this autumn to not only enjoy autumn colour, but to also help raise vital funds to support tree planting and help tackle the climate crisis. 

Join in with the Move for trees challenge to complete 50km of activity this October and raise money to help plant more trees. Every £5 you raise will plant a sapling, and bring us one more tree towards a greener future.

What will autumn colour be like this year?

Despite mixed weather over spring and summer – our experts predict that 2021 could be a great year for autumn colour. Below average rainfall in spring and summer is resulting in early leaf drop in some areas, meaning autumn colour is happening already.

Pamela Smith, National Trust National Gardens and Parks Specialist says: ‘Autumn colour is not only determined by what the actual weather is doing now, the weather patterns throughout the year are also key – particularly levels of sunshine, but also levels of rainfall, a lack of which can cause stress for trees which is why there have been early shows of yellow or brown autumn colour and leaf-fall in parts of the country.

Autumn colour at Studley Royal, Yorkshire
An autumn view looking down on the Studley Royal Cascade, Yorkshire
Autumn colour at Studley Royal, Yorkshire

Pamela continued: ‘The warm, sunny days that many of us experienced in September, and rainfall in some areas of the country has helped many tree species build up additional sugars in their leaves which will soon be trapped in the leaf as it becomes cut off from the rest of the tree branch, a process known as abscission. High sugar levels produce red colours known as anthocyanins.

'Over the next two weeks we do need some more sunny days, more rain and colder temperatures - but staying above freezing – with no storms, to help boost what could be a really good year for autumn colour.’

*Adults voted for their favourites from a choice of 19 options.  After the top three results, the results were as follows: the build up to Christmas (9 per cent), hygge (7 per cent), autumn cooking (5 per cent), autumn clothing (4 per cent), autumn telly (3 per cent), bonfire night (3 per cent) and Halloween (3 per cent).

**Summer was voted the favourite season by all other age groups (32 per cent) followed by spring (26 per cent) and winter (nine per cent).

Autumn colour at Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire looking over the church and lake, with a swan in the forground

Discover autumn colour near you

Catch the glorious displays of autumn colour at the gardens and parks we care for. Take a walk through the seasonal spectacle of oranges, reds and golds.