Bumper berry crop could save wildlife from winter storms

A bumper crop of hawthorn berries – reckoned to be the biggest since records began 20 years ago – is bringing a big boost for wildlife across Croydon’s commons and open spaces.

Bumper crop: fieldfares and other birds enjoy the wild autumn harvest of hawthorn berries

Hedgerows and woodland across the nation are awash with the red berries which experts at the Woodland Trust are describing as one of the biggest ever crops.

This could prove vitally important for migrating birds that have been battered around and blown off course by the high winds of Storm Ciaran and the recent wild weather.

Nature’s Calendar recorders have sent in reports with this year’s crop being given 4.2 on the fruit scale – deemed “exceptional”. This takes in dozens of records where hawthorns are judged on the abundance of their berries, also known as “haws”.

The Nature’s Calendar team has been reporting on this for the last 20 years, and with records still coming in, it’s the largest fruit score ever (equalled only in 2014).

Dr Judith Garforth, the Woodland Trust’s citizen science officer, said: “This is really good autumn news for wildlife.

“Haws are eaten by migrating birds such as redwings, fieldfares and thrushes as well as small mammals.

“The fruit score is really important as it provides an indicator of winter food availability for wildlife, as well as the seed source available for natural regeneration of trees and shrubs, it’s often linked to climate variables in preceding seasons.”

The Nature’s Calendar team puts the exceptional crop down to a mild spring where temperatures hovered above average. This is when the white hawthorn flowers bloom which, if pollinated, go on to produce the red fruits in autumn.

Nature’s Calendar volunteers also record the date that hawthorn flowers first start to open in spring. The data shows that the national average date of first flowering of hawthorn was May 1 this year. This was perfect timing for its common name the ‘May tree’.

The warm dry weather in May was also ideal for pollinating insects.

While Dr Garforth celebrated the news, she cautioned that a shortage of volunteer recorders could put such record gathering at risk.

“We desperately need more recorders to deliver such data which is so important for tracking the nation’s seasons.

“We’re incredibly lucky to have historic data going back almost 300 years, but to understand how wildlife is responding to the changing climate, we need new volunteers to continue the record into the future.

“Becoming a recorder is a great way to get into the outdoors but you can even chart nature by looking out of your window. So please do come forward – anyone can take part, you don’t need to be a scientist!”


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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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