Kicking your way through piles of crispy golden autumn leaves. Can anything be so evocative? Britain’s deciduous trees are now treating us to a dazzling display of blazing autumn colour along with flurries of dancing leaves floating down to the ground (sometimes annoying the gardeners out there who are giving their lawn its last cut!).
I have a favourite tree that I pass each day on my way to and from the Woodland Trust. It’s nothing special, just a field maple planted at the side of a Lincolnshire road amongst an untidy clump of brambles and hawthorn.
The reason it’s so special to me is that during the summer months I zip by with my head full of the things I need to do that day and I just notice its lush greenery out of the corner of my eye. Come September my eye is suddenly drawn to it more as it takes on its first tint of autumn. I start to make a point of slowing down a little to see how much the shades change from day to day.
Come mid October the tree is so dazzling that I actually pull over and take a closer look, being inspired by its fiery head-dress, planning the leaf crowns I’m going to make with my kids and the new woodland walks we can discover. The science behind why leaves change colour is fascinating.
As I stand and stare I’m taken back to the route I used to walk to school, a tree-less almost post-apocalyptic Black Country landscape strewn with slag heaps and furnace waste from a long gone industry. It was an eyesore. One day I noticed piles of what I naively thought were twigs lying in neat rows on the ground.
On my way from school I saw that the ‘twigs’ had been planted and a protective plastic tube placed around each one. It took me most of the winter and spring months to realise that they weren’t actually twigs, they were saplings!
Over the next 20 years I watched the saplings grow, wishing that I could have been involved in their planting and the transformation of such an ugly piece of land into a peaceful haven for wildlife right next to a busy road. Now I walk through that labyrinth of field maple, silver birch, oak, hawthorn and blackthorn with my own kids and point out their nuts, seeds and berries. What was a barren, unloved landscape is now teeming with wildlife including badgers and great crested newts!
Nowadays I’m fortunate to have a job where I can plant as many trees as I like (in fact I’m encouraged to plant even more!) and I help community groups, schools and youth groups apply for free packs of saplings to enhance their neighbourhood, provide food and homes for wildlife and for future firewood. Our free tree packs are also helping bees!
Why spend years, as I did, wishing you’d planted some trees to enhance your neighbourhood? Do you know of a piece of land nearby that could do with some trees, or a group of enthusiastic people who want to plant? Have a word in their ear and ask them to find out about our free trees for communities scheme and be inspired by other groups at www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/communitytrees.
After all, they do say “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.”