September: Wildlife Watch

August 28 2015

Can it really be time to think about September already? Writing this in early August, about to go on holiday, it feels as though the year is racing away from me.

By Dawn Lawrence

Can it really be time to think about September already? Writing this in early August, about to go on holiday, it feels as though the year is racing away from me. But today I am biting into my first British Discovery of the year and it is time to celebrate our fruit trees!

By September the swifts are long gone and the house martins are on their way but in compensation we can turn to our fruit trees. Few sights are as heart-warming as a spreading apple tree bent with heavy scarlet fruit.

The harvest looks set to be good this year and the birds and insects will be grateful for those apples, plums and pears that we leave for them. Many local gardens have fruit trees, often aged ones which lean and totter, and they play a very important role in supporting the wildlife of our area. Fruit trees are fantastic for wildlife, indeed if you are thinking of planting a tree for wildlife in your garden, you would be hard put to beat an apple tree. According to one published list crab apple (our native British apple) can support 93 different species of insect which puts it at number seven out of thirty different trees and shrubs. It is reasonable to assume that the garden apple can support the vast majority of those species as it is closely related to the crab.

Why are fruit trees so good? For a start they bear both blossom and fruit: the blossom is very attractive to bees and other pollinating insects and the fruit is an important food source for everything from insects to birds to badgers. Their leaves are palatable to many insects (okay, some might call them pests, but no matter how many leaf mines we get it never seems to affect fruit production). One very common moth on apple trees and whose presence is indicated by delicate scribbles across the leaves is Lyonetia clerkella. As a caterpillar it is tucked away in between the two surfaces of an apple leaf and it emerges as a tiny moth, barely the size of a grain of rice. On a grander scale there is the magnificent eyed-hawk moth. At rest it has plain brown wings, patterned to make subtle camouflage, but if disturbed it will flash red hind wings bearing bright blue eye spots. This sudden blue-eyed glare serves to frighten, or at least surprise predators, allowing the moth time to get away.

An old tree is at its best as far as wildlife is concerned and can support far more wildlife than a healthy young specimen. Rot holes which hold water are breeding sites for hoverflies and other insects, peeling bark is a great little habitat for beetles and a rotten limb can be a thriving, bustling city of invertebrates. So be careful with those loppers, put that chain saw away and just hope that you are lucky enough to get a visit from a great-spotted woodpecker, looking for lunch.