Monthly column: Take a Walk on the Wild Side
This month Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust’s Rachel Shaw writes about the bountiful berries and fruits that are bursting into colour as summer ends.
Hedgerows are turning red with hawthorn berries and blackthorn branches are adorned with bluish-bloomed black sloes - it’s a sign that summer is nearing its end.
Whilst the fruit of blackberry, hawthorn, elder and rose are hopefully familiar to most there are many more berries and fruits, some of which take a little more seeking out.
Amongst the scarcer of our berry-bearing trees is the wild service tree. It was probably never an abundant tree in England and is now is confined to ancient woodlands and hedges, particularly on heavy clay soils.
In Lincolnshire, they can be found in the woods of the south-west of the county. Inconspicuous for much of the year, their white blossom in spring and crimson leaves in autumn give them away. The small fruits are reddish-brown and used to be sold as ‘chequers’. They are said to taste like dates but only once they are over-ripe.
Perhaps one of the most exotic looking berries of an English hedgerow is the spindle. Spindle is a small tree, widespread in woodland edges and hedgerows on limestone soils but is also frequently planted in parks and gardens.
The unusual fruit is a bright pink capsule that splits open to reveal an even brighter orange seed. Clusters of these bright pink and orange berries hang from its twigs. The berries of spindle are eaten by a variety of animals including mice, birds and even foxes but they are poisonous to us.
Whilst eating wild blackberries and collecting wild berries and fruit to make jams, jellies or wine is one of the delights of autumn, it should always be done with caution.
Don’t assume that because the birds are eating them, we humans can eat them too. Some of the berries that are devoured by birds are toxic to us. You should never eat anything from the wild unless you are absolutely certain of its identification and that it is edible.
And if you’re planning on enjoying the bounteous natural harvest, never take the entire crop; always leave some berries on the tree for wildlife.
Berries and fruits can be a real life saver for wildlife: migrating birds such as redwings and waxwings will feast on berries once they have arrived from northern Europe; mice and voles will fatten-up during this time of plenty before the onset of winter; even insects will benefit as butterflies such as red admirals and painted ladies will feed on the juices of blackberries and other fruits.