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The Nature Sketchbook - November

It is difficult to know what to expect as the final month of meteorological autumn is upon us and signals the shift into winter. The seasons have certainly kept us guessing this year with a late flourish of summery weather into September and again in October. The first frost may have come upon us in mid-October but it’s efforts were short lived followed up with warmer wetter weather.

Whilst the wetter ground has allowed for a boom in fungal growth, the leaves have been slow to display their colour changes and at the time of writing it is anyone's guess as to whether the display will be vibrant and long or if the trees will almost wholesale drop their leaves in defeat against the unpredictable weather patterns of the UK.

Into November, it is the time for hedgehogs to hibernate. Hedgehogs are one of few native species that truly hibernate, alongside bats and dormice. Although, my slowing down and staying indoors is surely as sign of a small hibernation on my part in the colder, wetter, darker months? True hibernation, as opposed to my mere wintery grumbling involves a huge drop in a hedgehog’s heart rate from something around 190 beats per minute to just 20.

Hedgehogs have experienced a terrible decline in the UK. As hedgehogs often seek places to hibernate like piles of leaves or branches or compost heaps, we can help them out by checking garden bonfires and leaving garden debris piles alone until the spring. Keeping hedges in our gardens and little holes in our fences are all terrific things to do for our hedgehogs but it is notable that the decline in hedgehog is largely in the rural populations where, according to a 2022 report, numbers have plummeted by 30-70% in rural landscapes. This calls for, according to the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, “urgent action …. to understand why rural areas are no longer suitable for hedgehogs, and how conservationists, farmers and land managers can work together to prevent hedgehogs from becoming extinct in the countryside.” Image a countryside with no hedgehogs? No, don’t it would be such a terrible indictment on us humans.

I have mentioned my winter grumbling which brings me to murmuration, defined by the Collins Dictionary thus, Noun, 1. Literary – the act of murmuring or grumbling 2. a collective term for starlings. The Starling alas is also a species of beauty and challenge. On the red list of birds of conservation concern in the UK its numbers swell in the wintery months when migratory European birds join our UK residents. It is at this time of year that you may be lucky enough to see the wonderous swirling patterns of birds flying in incredible formations just before roosting.

Although not in West Berkshire, November is the time for the migration of barnacle geese onto our shores, especially in the North West of England and Scotland. Curiosity had me wondering what barnacles, (a sea creature, a type of crustacean related to crabs, according to the Wildlife Trusts) and Geese had to do with each other? Ultimately, it is a story of human ignorance from a time when we did not understand migration and did not know where the barnacle goose came from.

Sea creatures, goose barnacles attach to rocks, ships, ropes and flotsam and have a long fleshy stem which looks like a long black neck. At a time when our understanding of the world was limited to our shores or the sea nearby, it is perhaps easy to see how we imagined that a goose which arrived seemingly out of nowhere and had a long black neck reminiscent of a barnacle could conceivably have grown out such a barnacle!

Well, that’s more than enough goosing around for one article and so until December I bid you farewell.

This month's Nature Zine can be purchased here for fewer words, more illustrations and covering more subjects.

Helen Grimbleby is an artist who is inspired by the natural world’s changing seasons. After exploring outside, she enjoys writing illustrated nature notes and painting larger landscapes at her home studio (@burbleartstudios).


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