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As the woodland habitats in the Wildlife Garden mature, the pageant of autumn colour seems to increase in intensity each year. Museum photographer, Jonathan Jackson (who needs little encouragement to escape the studio and work with living natural history), spent some time in the garden 2 weeks ago shooting many beautiful images, including most of the photos below. And Larissa Cooper, who joined us nearly 3 months ago, adds some of her own and describes her first autumn in the Wildlife Garden:

 

"As the autumnal chill creeps up on us, the many different (mostly native) trees we have in the garden begin to show off their colours before being cast away now their job has been done.


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The colours of the garden vary as the leaves begin to fall. The first tree to drop its leaves was the common lime (Tilia x europea).


It’s a beautiful but busy time for us in the garden. Leaves are broken down on the woodland floor by decomposers such as fungi and detritivores like millipedes and earthworms. However the non-native London plane trees (Plantanus x hispanica) cover the garden with large leathery leaves which are a bit too much for our native flora, such as bluebells, to push through.

 

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Fungi growing from decaying wood sits in front of a fallen plane tree leaf (Photo: L.Cooper)

 

 

3 (Custom).jpgLondon plane tree leaves lie with rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)


Enter the wildlife gardeners, volunteers and occasionally other staff with our rakes and trusty shredder, giving nature a little helping hand to break down the leaves. Looking out for frogs and toads hiding from the cold we gently rake and remove the plane tree leaves. being careful not to damage any seedlings and delicate plants. By December we will have raked and shredded tonnes of leaves, and scattered the shreddings back onto the woodland floor to allow a buildup of decomposed leaves.

 

 

4 (Custom).JPG Not all the leaves are shredded, the poplar (Populus nigra 'Italica') leaves which fall around the greenhouse are mixed with straw from the sheep shed and composted (Photo: L.Cooper)


But raking leaves aside; it gives us a chance to see the beauty of the changing colours around us. The beech (Fagus sylvatica) trees turn amber while the poplar leaves change to a vibrant yellow.

 

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Beech trees behind the meadow show off their varying colours

 

The plants around the pond die back diverting the attention to the golden reeds which complement the colours of the early autumnal evenings.

 

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Common reeds (Phragmites australis) turn a golden brown

 

While the holly holds its colour, with dashes of red from the berries, the spindle tree (Euonymus europaeus) displays an almost tropical array of fuchsia-coloured berries.

 

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Spindle berries add a touch of pink to the usual reds, yellows and browns of autumn

 

 

It is all such a treat so see on a daily basis!"

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The main pond is surrounded by autumnal colours

 

 

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The bright yellows of the hornbeam are reminiscent of summer glowing on a clear chilly autumnal afternoon

 

Thank you to Larissa and Jonathan for the blog and photos.

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One of our first tasks of autumn is spent around the ponds thinning out reeds from the pond margins, removing decaying vegetation and covering the top pond with netting to keep it free of plane tree leaves. Of course, some less invasive pond management takes place throughout the year...

 

Here in July, Nadia enjoyed cooling off in the coracle whilst pruning willow on the floating moorhen island. The island was at risk of blowing over - the thick growth of willow acting as a sail:

 

1. Nadia tending to the moorhen island (Custom).JPGNadia tending to the moorhen island


This summer we had a build up of least duck weed (Lemna minuta) that threatened to block out light to the submerged aquatic plants in one of the ponds.

 

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Veolia Environmental Services’ volunteers take a break from skimming duck weed off the top pond to reduce its cover

 

 

Common reed (Phragmites australis) is a beautiful plant in all seasons but given half a chance it’ll romp away across the pond reducing the area of open water and shading out less robust marginal pond plants such as marsh marigold (Caltha palustris), water mint (Mentha aquatica) and ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi).

 

A little surreptitious reed weeding happens in summer...

 

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Sophia has just dropped her secateurs...

 

 

...but in October we get into more serious reed-pulling along with thinning of other tall marginals such as great willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum) and hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum).

 

Most insect larvae will have hatched and left the pond but there is still plenty of life in the ponds and in the mud and so plant thinning is confined to one short section of the pond to minimise disturbance.

 

4, Nicky and Sean reed pulling (Custom).JPGNicky and Sean are working hard pulling reeds and willowherb from margins along the eastern edge of the main pond

 

The moorhens kept away but they surprised a few frogs:

 

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Common frog (Rana temporaria)

 

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Nicky and Sean's work complete!

 

Finally, the least popular autumn pond task is covering the top pond with netting to protect it from the falling plane tree leaves. The net is placed over a pyramidal structure in the centre of the pond.

 

Alex and I drew the short straws and had to wade into the water on one of the coldest days so far this month, but unfortunately (for him) Alex got the really short straw - leaky waders! The longest straw went to Sophia, who got to stand on the dry bank to take these photographs.

 

7. placing thepyramid (Custom).JPGPlacing the ‘pyramid’ in the pond to hold the net

 

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Struggling to place the 'pyramid' into the centre of the pond

 

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Pegging down the net to hold it in place to catch the falling leaves

 

The ‘pyramid’ was designed and constructed by the Saturday volunteer team 3 years ago using coppiced alder, cherry and hazel, and is now a little fragile.

 

More about leaves to follow next week but i,n the meantime, something that happened back in October:

 

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Tommy, Nadia and Alex collecting the Brighter Kensington and Chelsea Scheme’s Wildlife Garden Award from the Mayor in Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall


And:

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Damian, Rama and Pam collecting the President’s Trophy for the best overall prize winner in the Brighter Kensington and Chelsea Scheme this year


Thank you to ALL our volunteers for helping us to win these awards!

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Several unusual, and many common sightings, are logged during the course of a day’s weeding, plant recording or simply sipping coffee near the bird feeding area…


The garden’s first sighting of the Jersey tiger moth was spotted 4 years ago as we were recording plants around the pond margins and has been spotted most years since - and this year in the moth light trap. Here is an image taken last year by volunteer Jo Manning.

 

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Jersey tiger moth nectaring on wild angelica (taken by Jo Manning)

 


One morning recently a green woodpecker announced its presence in the meadow with its familiar laugh [n.b. this is a direct link to a .mp3 file at xeno-canto.org. I've also attached another call to the bottom of the post].

 

It was in the vicinity of an ant hill – they’re rather partial to ants. This was my second sighting ever of a green woodpecker in the Wildlife Garden.

 

A week later, Daniel spotted a great spotted woodpecker on the peanut feeder. It stayed long enough for him to grab the camera and take a shot – not easy as the woodpecker was behind the feeder – but here’s an image he wished he’d shot – (taken by Martin Tipping)

 

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Great spotted woodpecker Dendrocopus major
© David Tippling Photo Library / The Natural History Museum, London

 

Since then this colourful bird has made regular trips to our peanut feeder - usually during lunch time - like today! 

 

Below the bird feeder, pigeons and squirrels squabble over fallen seeds whilst mice dart from their log piles to snatch seeds and peanut droppings.

 

One of my favourite times in the Wildlife Garden is after sunset – sitting near the pond, bat detector in hand….waiting patiently for a pipistrelle.

 

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A late-evening moment with a pipistrelle

 

No, this wasn’t the actual bat I recorded, but is one of many images from the Bat Conservation Trust.

 

Working over-time takes on a new meaning in the presence of pipistrelle bats feeding over our ponds during warm summer evenings....