Why autumn fruit lovers are enjoying a bumper season

Hawthorn berries (photo by Alwaysoutside on BBC Autumnwatch's Flickr group)

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Remember how long and cold winter was? Now it's payback time, with unusually rich pickings of autumn fruit and berries. Why?

So far 2010 has been a year of extremes - the coldest winter in 30 years, the first late spring since 1976, a heatwave in late June and the coldest August in 17 years.

Find out more

Robin and berries (photo by Ashley Cohen on BBC Autumnwatch's Flickr group)
  • Autumnwatch returns to BBC Two for eight weeks from Thursday, 7 October at 2030 BST
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The upside is that now, in time for Thursday's autumnal equinox, the nation's trees and hedgerows are bursting with fruit, berries and nuts.

Not only is this good news for orchard owners, home gardeners and foragers alike, it means birds, insects and other animals can stock up before winter's chill descends.

"This relates back to the wonderful late spring and - incredibly by modern standards - the long period of settled weather we had until mid-July, when the wheels fell off somewhat," says Matthew Oates, the National Trust's conservation advisor, who has kept detailed wildlife diaries for many years.

Throughout August an area of low pressure sat over or near to the UK, making it a cloudy, cool and wet month.

Foraging for fruit and nuts

Squirrel with nut (photo by Mark Johnson on BBC Autumnwatch's Flickr group)
  • Be sure you know what it is before eating anything picked in the wild
  • Check a field guide first
  • Some people have intolerance to fruits and berries, so always try a few small items first

"But we had nothing nasty all the way through May, June and early July - no gales, no late frosts, nothing. In this 10 to 12-week period free from foul and abusive weather, the trees had time to flower profusely, be amply pollinated and then set well with fruit."

While early blackberries suffered in August's rains, those ripening now are in plentiful supply.

Also abundant are apples, pears and the last of the plums - albeit perhaps a little weather damaged from the inclement turn last month - along with hazelnuts, rosehips and sloe berries.

"It's a terrific rosehip year. Rosehips have about 1,000 times more vitamin C than oranges and lemons but we don't tend to eat these now because of the preparation required. But they were a mainstay of World War II diets, with rosehip jellies and syrups."

The hedgerows are also well-berried, dripping with spindle berries and the fruits of hawthorn and holly.

Some may worry that plentiful holly berries signal vicious weather come Christmas, but this is a myth, says Mr Oates. "It reflects the good spring we had, it's not prophesying anything."

All of which is beneficial for biodiversity, as well as jam and crumble enthusiasts - unless hedgecutters and flails get there first, he adds.

Dormice, squirrels, foxes and badgers are very fond of autumn fruit and nuts, as are migratory birds fattening up for winter, and insects such as the hawthorn picture wing fly and micro-moths which feed on spindle berries.

Some plants suffered when summer took a turn for the worst, including sweet chestnuts. "And oak trees - acorn crops aren't as good as I'd thought."

Meanwhile, experts at the National Arboretum in Gloucestershire say Britain could be in line for a prolonged display of autumn colours. Its log books show the weather patterns this year most closely resemble those of 1929, which had vivid leaves on the trees until November.

Start Quote

Matthew Oates

The trees had time to flower profusely, be amply pollinated and then set well with fruit”

End Quote Matthew Oates

"We tend to like autumn colours more than spring displays, so from an aesthetic point of view this autumn looks set to be a good one," says Mr Oates. "As well as good leaf colours, the myriad of fruit and berries will provide bright pinpoints of colour."

While he, like the professional forecasters at the Met Office, is reluctant to predict what the coming winter will be like, signs are that September's weather will continue to be relatively pleasant.

"We haven't had a wet September since 2000. At its worst, this one is going to be mixed."

Perfect, he says, for making the most of the pleasures of autumn before winter's chill sets in.

Below is a selection of your comments

Our paddock adjoining our garden is surrounded by wild natural hedging laden with all sorts of berries plus crab apples, sloes, damsons and rosehips . It's alive with flocks of birds foraging and is a joy to sit and watch - and a very good lesson in encouraging wildlife into the garden, compared to my neighbour's who keeps his trimmed and pruned to within an inch of the stems and there's not a bird to be seen.

Carol Jeans, Bourton on the Water, Gloucestershire

I can see that the birds are getting an unusual variety of fruits and berries - from the state of my car, which, parked under a tree, looks like a multi-coloured work of art. However, the blackberries around here don't seem quite as large as in some years. We'll see how the apples are doing at the Brogdale Apple Festival - they grow all the old English varieties still in cultivation, and I'm hoping they've done well.

Dave, Kent

Our four-year old damson tree produced 7.5kg fruit from which we have made 18 pots of jam not to mention numerous puddings. Utterly delicious! The hedgerows locally are dripping with sloes and we have turned seven bottles of gin and 4kg of sloes into several vats of sloe gin ready for Christmas. Off to harvest blackberries this weekend. Never can I recall such a wonderful year for berries & fruit.

Brendan Boyle, St Ives, Cambridgeshire

An abundance of berries for foragers and wildlife eh? Not round here with the unsympathetic farmer's flail that hacks the hedgerows to pieces at the beginning of September.

Kate Burrows, Taunton, Somerset

Not only is it good for fruits and nuts but this year's mushroom season is a cracker - puffballs, ceps and chicken of the woods are in abundance. It looks like it is going to continue well into October.

James Fleming, Leeds

Walking in Suffolk last weekend we saw loads of mushrooms, but most of them fly agarics so we didn't pick any.

Steve, London, UK

Help! We're drowning in bright red, sweet tasting apples from our three small trees in the garden. We're struggling to eat or give enough away, and it seems such a shame to let them waste. We've collected literally hundreds of them so far, and still the trees look well laden.

Richard Ishida, Harpenden, Herts

May I suggest offering them on Freecycle? I was recently the happy recipient of several cooking apples from a kind local resident and it was a lovely bonus for someone who doesn't have their own apple tree.

Sophie, St Albans

If you have too many apples to eat or preserve as jams or frozen, and so many that your friends can't take them all, then here's a suggestion. Is there a stable nearby? Donate your surplus apples to a stable, and you'll make some horses quite happy. They can easily take several apples each as a "dessert" for their meals (the stable manager should stipulate quantities).

John, Kuopio, Finland

Surplus apples to horse, what a waste - make cider. I've currently got 14 gallons on the go and should think I can hit 20 by mid October.

Pete Creese, Beanacre, Wiltshire

It isn't just the fruit that is bountiful this year, I cannot recall any year where there have been so many grey squirrels dashing about all over the place and burying their stash of nuts. They all look pretty big and well fed. I'm sure this will mean lots more trees and bushes emerging from their hidden stashes next year.

Martin Hollands, Aylesbury, England

The fruit harvest has arrived several weeks earlier than normal here in Peninne Yorkshire. Hedgerows have not only been full since late August the colour the berries provide has been great to see. Elderberries are just now ready to pick - as are some rosehips. Both these fruit are perfectly good to consume (or make wine from) and make an excellent reason to get out walking - they enhance the natural beauty of this area.

Richard Morgan, Huddersfield, UK

Heretical admission: I find this year the blackberries I am munching while out with the dog have very little flavour compared with those in my garden and, more shocking still, the field mushrooms really don't match the taste of the supermarket ones.

Richard, Wellingborough, Northants

I have always picked blackberries and wild apples and plums, and even made elderberry wine. But two weeks ago a community support officer told myself and my daughter we were illegally collecting berries from the hedgerows as it was council-owned. I contacted the council, and was eventually told I should have got permission from the highways.

Dr Antonias Vaccilio, Isle of Wight

I checked the law recently about foraging and basically if something is growing wild and accessible from a public right of way then it's fair game. If the council had planted those berry bushes in order to harvest a commercial crop then you would need permission, but I doubt that was the case...

Graham, Ramsgate, Kent

Only common land is fair game for picking "wild" fruits. In this day and age nothing grows on farmland unless the owner provides conditions for it to flourish, which has to be regarded as cultivation. A right of way is a right to walk, not a right to take what is growing, and most roadside hedges belong to the field they surround, not the highways. It would be polite to ask first before taking someone else's sloes and blackberries.

The Mardler, Norfolk

I have been very ill and my husband took me out for walks on the South Downs and we picked black berries, wild plums and apples. This has been extremely healing and spiritual for both of us and it has done wonders in terms of spending quality, holistic time together. The fruit we picked was useful for making crumbles and we have had a lot of fun this summer despite my health. Berries in particular are very good for overall health, for diabetics to regulate glucose, for bowl health as they alkaline the stomach, for eyes and so on. I do hope that it is not an illegal activity to pick wild fruit as it is part of holistic living and the council should encourage this rather than prevent it. Besides all that lovely fruit would only rot and be wasted.

Suvarna Sansom, Hove

Hmm the council may have a bye-law that removed your common law right. I would ask which law they are using to remove your right to forage? Also you could move to Scotland, their law is clear in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. I believe Defra tried to prosecute a lady picking mushrooms in the New Forest. The judge threw the case out.

Bryan Mclaughlin, Rochdale

It's not illegal to gather wild fruit as long as it's not for profit.

Paul, London

I've been picking fruit and berries and making jams and chutneys and jellies and syrups, not by the hoard but a wee glut. My plan is perhaps to sell some at my local farmers market. Does this mean that I am breaking some rules? Could I get in trouble?

Sherry, Scotland

You may gather fruit, fungi and foliage, as Paul states, as long as it's not for profit. Add to that, not for profit when you gather it. If you end up getting too much and decide to flog your rosehip jelly at the school autumn fete, you won't be getting your collar felt by the local bobby. So make sure you get your story straight. Meanwhile, I'll be gathering Sloes and doing gallons of gin and making very boozy sloe gin chocolates out of the residue pulp.

Jez Scott, Milton Keynes

We are delighted when people pick goodies along the footpath which crosses our land - there is plenty for everyone. BUT it does stick in the craw when a man comes along with two large buckets and plastic bags to fill with plums and bullace, before the fruit is ripe, and we find nothing left for us...

Sylvia Halford, Maldon, Essex

Our neighbours' Victoria Plum fruited profusely on our side of the fence - sadly much fruit was damaged but I have never seen so much in four years of living here.

Kath Chapman, Sunderland, Tyne & Wear

When I was young in the 50s I remember rosehip syrup and jelly. I will be searching for some recipes this year to take advantage of the bounty.

Chris Howells, Thirsk, North Yorkshire

We have harvested 60kg of good quality Bramley apples from the single apple tree in our small back garden - a record for us and they are delicious.

Christopher Spry, Wimbledon, UK

No late frosts?! Here we had 3 days of hard frost in mid-May. The yew & box hedging still show the effects of this, only starting to recover around July / August, while the dwarfed apple trees (but not fully grown mature ones) were devastated. However, the sloes & plums flowered earlier so are laden with fruit, as is the mulberry which flowered later.

R Bates, Cambridge

Last autumn there was a bumper crop of fruits and berries too. Country lore says that bumper crops precede a hard winter, Certainly happened last year.

Jane, Cornwall

Our grape vines have produced a terrific crop this year, certainly better than the last couple of years, which will hopefully make for a good wine vintage. Interestingly, strawberries didn't do quite so well, not sure why (possibly the cold August). As this article is about fruit, I feel I can also add that we're seeing a rather late ripening of cherry tomatoes.

Ewen, Long Ditton, Surrey

Our neighbour's grape vine, which grows across parts of both gardens, has loads of fruit this year. Despite some spoilt fruit, presumably due to mixed weather over the summer, there is more than enough for the birds (who are having a fantastic time with it) and for us. It looks amazing too.

Karen, New Malden, UK

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