Experts at the Forestry Commission’s National Arboretum at Westonbirt are predicting a riot of leaf colour alongside the spectacular show of forest fruits this autumn.
A year with an ideal mix of sunshine and rain has meant a great growing season for the nation’s trees, providing perfect conditions for the sugars to build up in the leaves that help them change colour and develop their vibrant autumn hues.
Acer palmatum (Japanese maple) leaves at Westonbirt credit Paul Groom
Those hoping to catch the magnificent maples of The National Arboretum at Westonbirt, Gloucestershire, should visit between the third week of October and the first week of November. During this time the Forestry Commission predicts trees will be at their spectacular peak, displaying a wave of colour that will develop slowly and then fade as the winds and frosts remove the last leaves.
Simon Toomer, the Forestry Commission’s Director at Westonbirt Arboretum, said:
“It’s been a fantastic year for our trees, with a balance of warm sunny conditions coupled with a fair amount of rainfall helping photosynthesis and growth.
“Because it was such a wet summer last year, trees began this summer with plenty of water and have not dried out too much despite the summer heat. This recipe of plenty of sunshine and rain in equal measure means we can expect a magnificent array of colour.
“Our forests are very diverse; they have different altitudes, climates and soil conditions which contribute to the rich variety of tree species and colour in the forests and trees.
“At the beginning of October you’ll be able to see the early waves of colour emerging and we’re predicting that it’ll reach its peak by the third week in October, through to the first week of November.
“There’s only a very short window to see these beautiful changes occurring so we’re encouraging people to get out and see what the forests and trees have on offer this autumn.”
Leaves starting to change colour first include some of Britain’s native species such as common spindle, dog wood and wild cherry. In forests and arboretums where a greater variety of exotic trees can be seen, stars of the autumn show include reds oaks, full moon maples and Persian ironwood. Japanese maples, beech, oak and field maples will change later.
Visitors this autumn are also in for a spectacular show of forest fruits and might even get to spot foraging wildlife, as the season is looking like a bumper year for the fruits and seeds of many trees and shrubs.
Indications are that ash, English oak, sweet chestnut, beech, hawthorn, hornbeam and small-leaved lime trees will produce large crops, laden with seeds, fruits and nuts, all because of one of nature’s mysterious events known as ‘masting’.
Bumper seed years are known as ‘mast years’; a natural phenomenon where some tree species produce very large crops of seeds in some years, compared to almost none in others.
Matthew Parratt, a scientist at Forest Research, the research agency of the Forestry Commission, said:
“Mast years are a great opportunity to experience nature at its best and with so much food around you’re likely to spot wildlife around the trees, so it’s a prime time to get out with the family and explore our woodland.”
The Forestry Commission’s website includes a spotter’s guide to trees and their fruits, as well as links to family activities, craft ideas, events and guided walks across the country. Visit www.forestry.gov.uk/autumn for details.
1. Westonbirt, The National Arboretum is managed by the Forestry Commission and is renowned worldwide for its tree and shrub collection. Home to five national collections, the arboretum covers 243 hectares (600 acres) and contains 16,000 labelled specimens. Visitor numbers are 350,000 a year, with a membership of over 28,000. Westonbirt Arboretum was established in the 1850s by wealthy landowner Robert Holford and later developed by his son George Holford. Unlike many arboretums, Westonbirt is laid out according to aesthetic appeal rather than scientific or geographical criteria. Visit www.forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt.
2. The Forestry Commission is the government department responsible for protecting, expanding and promoting the sustainable management of woods and forests and increasing their value to society and the environment. Further information can be found at www.forestry.gov.uk.
3. The Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum was formed in 1985. The charity’s objects are to support the National Arboretum in promoting public understanding of the crucial role of trees to the environment and society. It is funded by membership receipts from over 28,000 members, other fundraising, and the use of the Great Oak Hall for events and activities. The Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum is a registered charity (no. 293190). More information at www.fowa.org.uk