Have you ever noticed how many holly berries there are in November but not by the time you may be wanting to use them for Christmas wreaths and other decorations? Autumn is the best season to enjoy berries and this year seems to be particularly rich, with hawthorn trees glowing a colourful orange. The combination of a dry, warm spring with a wet summer has led to this plethora.
Berries are a crucial food source for many birds and animals that are building up their energy reserves before winter, so between now and Christmas a great many get eaten. Rodents such as mice, voles, shrews and squirrels eat a range of berries as do less obvious animals including foxes, badgers and hedgehogs. Deer love plants from the Rosaceae family which includes roses and brambles and will delicately pick off berries and hips. Birds love berries and can make quite a mess! Look out for members of the thrush family including song and mistle thrush as well as blackbirds. Winter migrants arrive in the autumn so you may see both redwing and fieldfare in your churchyard feasting on yew and other berry-bearing trees such a holly, hawthorn and rowan. Brambles carrying blackberries are popular and feed a range of birds, animals and also insects. You can often find the next stage of the food web with spiders spinning webs to catch creatures attracted to the berries.
If you are planting shrubs within your churchyard how about choosing berry-bearers, particularly native species such as spindle and guelder rose. If you already have shrubs or a hedge then try and delay any pruning work until the berry feast is over. The end of winter is a good time to cut back hedges and other shrubs, this gives birds and animals food, plus shelter from the winter weather (and from predators such as cats), whilst getting things under control before birds start to build nests in the spring.
We’d love to know what creatures you see eating the berries in your churchyard, please put a record onto iNaturalist or let us know by email.
All the best,
Diocesan Churchyard Environmental Advisor
www.caringforgodsacre.org.uk - individuals and groups in the diocese receive 20% members discount on all CfGA materials. Use the discount code diomem22