Autumn wildlife at Devil's Dyke Estate

A hedgehog foraging for food in an autumn woodland setting

Out goes summer with all its lively activity and in comes the gentle slowing of the countryside’s rhythm as nature prepares for the harsh times to come. All around us on the farm there are subtle changes with many species disappearing to be replaced by autumnal species whose time it is to thrive.

The changing colours of the countryside are a clear sign of the new season with the rolling hills and winding hedgerows seen from the downs turning to copper. The rich range of orange and brown shades the leaves are turning gives the countryside visual warmth to expiate the cooler weather.

A squirrel surrounded by autumn leaves
A squirrel in the autumn leaves

Our ancient woodland on Newtimber Hill is a great place to experience this first hand and it is a pleasant alternative to the unending landscape of greens that can usually be seen.  The farmyard has become a quieter place with the leaving of the boisterous swallows and house martins that have set off on their long journey south. However, bird migration goes both ways so we have the pleasure of hosting new species such as merlin, fieldfare and redwing over the colder months which should easily keep the twitcher in you amused.

A Redwing stops for lunch
A redwing bird sits on a branch covered in red berries

The activity of our resident bats has been decreasing and we can see smaller amounts of their feeding debris as the moths go on. The cooler temperatures are the signal for these furry flying-mammals to leave their summer roost and scout about to find a comfortably stable environment in a nearby cave to hibernate.  Many other species are also spending these months preparing for winter including our snakes who are feeding to build up their body reserves and looking for their own place to overwinter, such as one of the downlands many rabbit holes.

A sure sign of autumn in the Forest - sloe berries
Sloe berries in Hatfield Forest

The countryside can seem quite bountiful in autumn due to the wide range of nuts and berries produced to stock our hedgerow-larders with the food to support our wildlife through winter. Chestnuts, hazelnuts, blackberries, and sloe berries are just some of those sprouting from or dropping off of plants and trees around us.  These are prized resources which can cause some, like the mistle thrush, to defend specific berry trees or bushes from being used by competitors. These fruits can also be a welcome treat for those talking a walk through our land, with blackberries being a particular favourite to refresh wavering ramblers.

You'll need some of these for this delicious dish
A bag of roasted chestnuts

Autumn is also the high season for another foragers-favourite – fungi. With our mixture of scrub, unimproved chalk downland, woodlands and hedgerows we have a large range of often colourful and bizarre looking fungi.  Waxcaps are characteristic of grassland areas like our downland, and we also play host to the rare bleeding mycenae fungi.  Strange almost perfectly circular marks known as fairy rings can appear in the grass which then sprout mushrooms, and are quite a wonderful sight to see.  One thing to remember though is that many fungi are very poisonous so avoid touching any unless you are very confident with your identification skills. 

A group of bleeding mycena fungi on a fallen tree
A group of bleeding mycena fungi on a fallen tree

So as there is still so much to see in our countryside this autumn why not break out the jumpers and scarves and go for a walk.