It is so easy to think of the natural world and our human world as being utterly separate places, when in fact they could not be more inextricably linked. It is also very easy to walk by your familiar world and think it dull or just see the surface – a tree is a tree, clouds are clouds, rain is just rain. Of course nature is everywhere and effects almost every aspect of our daily lives; the ways in which it does so are often taken for granted or ignored completely – when in fact we are surrounded by miracles and wild beauty in even the most mundane of places. It is just a matter of looking at it in the right way.
So let’s dissect one of these mundane and everyday views and see what can be seen; the view from my bedroom window could not get any more ‘everyday’ for me although appreciably it is not so for anyone else so I shall start by describing it. The view is looking north over a part of the suburbs in which I live, the sky is overcast and dark grey (it being a November afternoon), the view is dominated by a care-home behind my house, there are trees on either side and several taller ones in the distance, more houses are to the right and my garden is immediately below the window, I can also see into my neighbours gardens on the right and to the left are some large trees behind which is a road.
Let’s start with the trees, most of which have completely lost their leaves; starting from the left of my view are some Oaks, then an Apple tree, a Silver Birch, an Acer, a distant fir tree, another birch, a cherry, a large Ash, then on the far right are a couple of Willows. The large Oaks are probably at a guess 200-250 years old and can be identified as part of a remnant hedgerow line that once would have bordered a field before housing estates were built on it in the sixties. These Oaks still have leaves that are part yellow, part brown and part green – Oaks are usually one of the last species to drop their leaves although there is much individual variation.
The leaves are changing colour due to the trees halting the production of chlorophyll (which enabled photosynthesis and made them green), as a result the green fades – revealing colours in the leaf made by other natural chemicals such as carotenoids and anthocyanin. A spongy substance will form between the leaf stalks and the twigs so that with some help from the wind the leaves drop to the ground where they are decomposed and consumed by invertebrates, fungi and microorganisms – thus recycling the leaves into new lifeforms or into soil for the tree to spread its roots through.
The Apple tree stands at the bottom of my garden, it occasionally produces edible fruit but most of that is eaten by birds, it is a cultivar of the domesticated apple Malus pumila (the species grown all over the world to produce all of our apple crops) this tree originates from central Asia where its wild ancestor Malus sieversii grows – although it is now a Vulerable listed species. The Acer also stands in my garden and is obviously an introduced species, probably originating from somewhere in Asia and planted here for its very attractive leaves which burn brilliant reds and yellows in autumn.
The distant fir trees are also introduced and such species of tree as these would not be a part of this landscape if it were not for many of the Victorian botanist explorers who scoured the globe from China to America for exotic and attractive species to be brought back to Europe and planted in the huge grounds of the landed gentry.
Despite being a native species the Birch trees I can see were almost certainly planted for ornamental reasons, they have now dropped their leaves (being one of the first to do so) and their curving, weeping, delicate forms look very architectural and pretty in silhouette against the sky. Birch is a pioneer species, meaning it is one of the first plants to colonise an area of bare ground and start the process of afforestation – it was a key tree after the end of the last ice age as it gradually transformed the landscape of Britain from a rocky tundra into the great wild forest that once covered this island.
A young Bird Cherry is growing in my garden also, planted for its pretty blossom as well as for the quantities of fruit it produces in autumn (as I write bunches of luminous-red marbles hang from its thin branches) which are purely for the birds to eat. A couple of willows are standing in a neighbours garden; these are excellent trees for wildlife as they provide an early-spring nectar and pollen source, the leaves are food for many insects, their dense branches provide ideal nesting sites and their seeds are eaten by finches.
On a smaller scale and thus rarely given much attention are the large mats of green moss that coat the roof of the garage and the care-home, these quickly colonise human dwellings (or any bare surface in nature). Moss acts like a sponge, soaking up excess rainwater from otherwise non-absorbent surfaces, it also creates a micro-habitat for invertebrates such as rotifers, water-bears, flies, woodlice and other plants – which in turn are food for larger creatures.
A large and trailing mass of ivy is hugging a fence at the end of someones garden, I have advocated this species all-round wildlife appeal before (it provides nesting, roosting, nectar and berries) but it is also worth mentioning that it provides a welcome splash of intense green in the otherwise monochrome winter months and is of use to us as a Christmas decoration in our houses – a centuries old tradition.
The clouds in the skies above may be flat, grey and dull but the rain they bring tops up our water table and brings fungi to life in the woods. The ones I am looking at are Stratocumulus and have been brought in by north-east winds pushing a small warm-front past England that’s largely residing in an area of low pressure over France. The wind by the way (an often bracing and delightful part of autumn I think) is moving air, the air is moving because somewhere in the world it is warm and air is rising – as it rises cooler air from other places rushes in to fill the gap – and we feel it as it rushes past.
A male Sparrowhawk just flew overhead, one of a resident pair that breeds in the area, he may of been heading to or from a hunt or going to roost, no-one knows but he. I can feel the cold from outside creeping in through the window seals, it is only cold because the Earth has reached a point in its solar-perambulation where, due to the planets tilt, my part of the globe is at a strong angle to the sun – meaning the solar energy is less concentrated and so has less warmth in it. It would be possible to go on and on in increasing detail and take a really close look at the history and biology and science behind everything I see in a single glance, but it would take all year so I’m going to stop here.