Britons turning into a nation of ‘leaf peepers’ according to new National Trust research as experts predict a ‘good’ season for autumn colour

Press release
Autumn colour at Stourhead
Published : 30 Sep 2021

Britons are turning into a nation of ‘leaf peepers’, according to new research commissioned by the National Trust. And, with signs looking positive for a good year for autumn colour, the conservation charity is urging people to get outside to enjoy the season.

With the first signs of autumn gradually starting to sweep across the country, results from a YouGov poll found that nearly a third (30 per cent) of adults chose seeing autumn colour as their favourite aspect of autumn, followed by 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).  

Enjoying autumn colour also came ahead of the build up to Christmas, hygge, autumn cooking, clothing or television, bonfire night and Halloween.   

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.  

Findings also revealed that over a quarter of adults (28 per cent) say they have noticed trees more now compared to before the first lockdown.

However, just under a quarter of Brits (22 per cent) voted for autumn as their favourite season, with it finishing third behind summer and spring (32 per cent and 26 per cent) respectively – with winter coming last at nine per cent.

But, autumn hit the top spot with the youngest group of adults questioned (18-24 year olds), and was their joint favourite season (tied with summer at 29 per cent).

To make the most of Britons’ love of spending time outdoors and the love of trees and autumn colour, the National Trust is asking people to get outside this autumn to not only enjoy autumn colour, but to also help raise vital funds to meet its tree planting ambitions, to plant and establish 20 million trees by 2030 to help tackle the climate crisis.

Celia Richardson, Director of Communications and Audience at the conservation charity said: “These findings show that people have a real love and appreciation of trees and of the natural sights of autumn – particularly enjoying how our trees change from the brilliant greens of summer to the vibrant reds, oranges, yellows and russet of the autumn colour palette.  

“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.  Connecting with nature is good for our health and wellbeing and makes people more likely to act to protect the natural world.  

“So we have launched our autumn challenge - asking people to get outside and to get active this autumn – to raise money to plant more trees, with the aim of helping not just the health of the nation, but also the health of our planet.”

The Trust’s autumn virtual challenge - Move for trees – invites people to get active and cover 50km (31 miles) throughout the month of October.  Every £5 raised will plant and establish one new sapling which could remove 1 tonne of CO2 from the air over its lifetime, to help people and nature thrive for generations to come.

National Trust predictions for this year’s autumn colour

Despite some signs of early autumn colour and leaf fall in early September - with much of the country experiencing an Indian summer, this could be a great year for autumn colour, according to National Trust experts.

Pamela Smith, National Gardens and Parks Specialist at the conservation charity 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.

“However, 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.”

Currently the butter yellows of lime trees are the most noticeable in terms of autumn colour, but there is potential for strong, vibrant red autumn colours to still come through.  

Pam continues: “Autumn colour is also determined by day length and temperature.  The shortening of the days and lower light levels as we move through October stops the production of chlorophyl, the green energy creating pigment in leaves. As the green pigment fades the underlying colours of reds, oranges, browns and yellows become apparent. 

“We start spring by following blossom from the south to the north, for autumn we reverse the journey and it is our northern most gardens that will start the autumn fanfare.  And with above average sunshine levels for parts of northern England, most of Scotland and parts of Northern Ireland over the summer we could see a fantastic autumn particularly in these areas.”

Commenting on autumn berries, Pam concludes: “Whilst the leaves certainly provide the show there are some unexpected autumn colours too.  Berries people may come across in gardens include the bright pink and turquoise berries of Clerodendrum, or the felt-tip purple berries of Callicarpa are the jewels in the autumn leaf crown.

“And in the wild, the sorbus trees - commonly known as Mountain Ash or Rowan are full of berries this year. Our native Rowan has masses of red berries but there are other species and cultivars that have white, pink, orange and red berries. 

“This year is also a good year for our Hawthorns, their fruits known as Haws highlight our hedgerows with their small, rose hip like fruits. 

“Worth the search are the Blackthorn fruits – sloes.  These dark purple sharp fruits are a staple for foragers to make sloe gin.”

For more information on the National Trust’s autumn virtual challenge and to find out how to get involved, see: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/move-for-trees 

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