Rural: Nature Note

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In our part of the world, this autumn has brought a tremendous harvest of acorns. Does this mean, as traditional wisdom has it, that we are in for a hard winter? No, say professional foresters; it means the exact opposite - that we had good weather earlier in the year, and that the oaks enjoyed a favourable spring and summer. The bumper crop has no bearing on winter.

Yet in producing so heavily the trees may also have been reacting to the stress of drought in midsummer, and unconsciously seeking to ensure the survival of their kind by fruiting abundantly. Experiments have shown that if bark is deliberately removed from trees, causing stress, they often react by increasing their output.

Oddly enough, this season's berry crop is poor: rowans and hollies are already bare, and some birds are in for a lean time. This scarcity reflects the patchiness of late frosts in April and May; blossom in some hedgerows escaped, but in others it was caught and blasted.