September – nature on your doorstep

The golden-rod is yellow;

The corn is turning brown;

The trees in apple orchards

With fruit are bending down.

By Helen Hunt Jackson

This is a monthly column I write for community magazines. The Editor gave a simple outline, “write about nature that people can see in or around the New Forest”. Living in the south of England, we have a wide array of wildlife to choose from and a variety of settings and habitats, ancient forests, heathland, rivers and rugged coastline. I’m interested in nature, conservation and helping the environment, I’m learning more about the natural world every day. Each month I write about some of the wonders to look our for in this area of Great Britain, at this time of year.

Swallow (photo courtesy of iStock)

Take a minute to appreciate swallows and house martins, their swooping acrobatics become something of a spectacle on late summer afternoons. A feast of insects will help them build strength for one of the most astounding journeys in nature, a migration of up to 10,000 miles. There is a saying in weather lore, “Swallows high, staying dry; Swallows low, wet will blow.” They catch small invertebrates that drift on thermal currents. If the insects are carried up to the warmer air, then you’ll see birds up high. If the weather is damp, the insects are lower as the currents are unsettled and the birds will be lower to catch them. Next time you see swallows swooping, check their height and you may be able to predict the weather.

September is a good time to start thinking of ways to help wildlife in your garden over the autumn and winter months. Whilst these creatures may have survived so far without much human help, habitats are being depleted and any shelter you can offer may make all the difference to their survival.

Woodpiles are the easiest of DIY creations. Gather some logs and dead branches, put them in a quiet corner of your garden and wait for the critters to arrive. These habitats are a haven for woodlice, newts and frogs, mice, hedgehogs and possibly slow worms and stag beetles.

Stag beetles spend up to seven years underground as larva. Adult stag beetles only live for a few weeks over a summer, fighting foes, mating, laying eggs and then dying. Many cultures celebrate beetles as a lucky charm, a symbol of transformation and luck, perseverance and progress. In medieval times they were believed to bring thunder and lightning.

Hedgehogs need all the help they can get since their slug and insect supplies are often tainted with pesticides and they run the constant risk of being run over. As we approach Autumn, be aware that hedgehogs are on the lookout for a place to hibernate. They love a good woodpile, and they have a habit of hiding in bonfires, so please check prior to lighting. If you’d like to support their pre-hibernation diet, they drink water (not milk) and enjoy a feast of mealworms or cat food.

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