As the seasons change our reserve comes alive with colour; from the brilliant white of blossom in the spring, to the vivid hues of lush green in the summer, to the vibrant yellows and reds that emerge in autumn. All through the year we are surrounded by these wonderful colours until winter comes and the branches are left bare – unless, of course, the trees are coniferous.

Most trees on our reserve were planted by hand around 30 years ago, which is why, if you look out of the visitor centre towards the lake, you can see how similar they are in height. Hawthorn makes up the majority of the hedgerows, along with holly and blackthorn. The photo below was taken in May last year when the hawthorn was in bloom.

There are a few particularly old trees at RSPB Sandwell that have been standing tall since before the first developments on the reserve began. They're at least 100 years old. One of them is fondly known as our ‘hugging tree’ and can be found on the way down to the Hide just past the viewing point and opposite the feeding station. The hugging tree is a very old oak, and one can often see squirrels chasing each other through the boughs. We’ve had several visitors come to hug our tree over the years from news presenters to local MPs.

The second oak tree is a little further down the path. If you take a right before the Hide gate and follow the path through the woods, you’ll find it on the left-hand side just before the junction that meets the end of the bridle path. This particular oak has been a home to many animals over the years including a colony of hornets. They might seem like unusual inhabitants for an oak tree, but some of our volunteers spent a couple of months watching them busily collecting materials and determinedly building their nest. You can read more about that story here.

Another notable species of tree we have on the reserve are manna ash. There are only three of these at RSPB Sandwell (that have been found so far) and they have only flowered once in the last couple of years. Manna ash trees are usually around 6-10 years old before they can produce ‘Manna’ – a form of sugar-alcohol that is used for medicinal purposes.

At the present we are surrounded by golden sycamores and they look magnificent in the late autumn sunshine. On the ground there are clusters of conkers and acorns, and fallen leaves everywhere.

The changing colours of leaves moves naturally from green to yellow, and then yellow to red, or purple or brown. As the daylight hours shorten and the temperature drops, leaves stop making chlorophyll (their food-making process). So, when the chlorophyll breaks down the green colour fades and the yellow and orange pigments shine through.

Leaves are made up of three types of pigment: chlorophyll (green), carotene (yellow) and anthocyanin (red).

Dry weather enhances the production of anthocyanin; cold weather, with temperatures below freezing, will stop the production of chlorophyll altogether. Eventually, as the winter nights draw in, the chlorophyll and carotene pigments will disappear completely.

Don't forget to check our opening times if you're planning on visiting us over the late autumn/early winter months. The Hide will be open until 3pm - volunteer dependant (it can get rather chilly in there at this time of year), and the Visitor Centre will be open until 4pm. As Winter draws near we'll be getting ready to say goodbye to all these beautiful autumn leaves and looking forward to all the changes that the new season will bring - and maybe even some snow!

- The RSPB Sandwell Valley Team

Photography by Andy Purcell

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