Nature Notes - November
November: An t-samhuinn – the month of Samhain and very probably my favourite month. There is a certain presence about the countryside as it gets ready to settle down for its winter rest. The weather has not yet turned really cold but the wind has started to blow and the sun has lost much of its warmth, although at mid-day may still have some warmth. Although there is a starkness coming to the countryside there is still much to see in field and hedgerow. There are a good many berries about this year and what a year for fungi, they seem to be everywhere. Some are solitary but some seem to form little villages and it is not surprising that people used to think that the faery folk lived there (and perhaps they still do). The Shepherd’s Prognostication (1729) recommends that we go to a beech tree at this time and cut a chip thereof: if it be found dry, then shall the winter be warm! November the 11th is Martinmas, the festival of the winter’s beginning. With grazing becoming scanty (and before the time of sheep nuts and silage) this was the time to slaughter cattle, sheep and pigs that could not be kept through the winter. Returning to the subject of fungi. It really is an excellent year but I must repeat previous warnings, please do not eat anything that you have not absolutely positively identified as being safe! Elsewhere my foraging bible tells me that Common Sorrel is still abundant and dandelion roots are available, horseradish and sheep’s sorrel are coming to an end but sloes are definitely in season. The sloe is, of course, to be found on the Blackthorn, the tree or bush with the most formidable thorns and the Blackthorn stick, when carried by a witch, struck terror into the heart of many a villager. As indeed would the taste of the early sloe. The longer you can leave the sloe on the bush the better and leaving your homemade sloe gin to mature for a good few years will definitely be to it and your, benefit! Eels are now in season so anyone fancying eel pie should get cracking although I rather think that you will need to travel beyond Croxley Green to gather your contents! Birds are busy at this time of year building up weight to see them through the harsh days ahead and now is very much the time to get bird food in to your garden feeders. In the last few days I have seen Magpies, Jays, Blue, Great and Long-Tail tits around our hedgerows. The Red Kite is still about and although I could not see it I am sure that I heard a Buzzard the other day over the Green. Those of you that have walked along the Chess bank recently may have noticed that the water level is higher. There has recently been some work carried out there to encourage more fish to the River. Our rivers are in a fairly bad shape partly due to lack of rainfall but mostly due to water extraction to satisfy our burgeoning population. It is all very well building more and more houses but it is taking a huge toll on our natural resources and our rivers are bearing the brunt. (I stood in Stone’s Orchard the other morning and listened. What did I hear above all: the incessant roar of the M25!). November the 21st is, by tradition, the day that Noah entered the Ark and the last Sunday before Advent is known as “Stir-Up Sunday”: Stir up we beseech thee the pudding and the pot, and when we do get home we’ll eat it piping hot! Do not forget to stir your Christmas Pudding mix clockwise and always with a wooden spoon. All present should take a turn in order; mother, father, children and babies by seniority and then any visitors! The 25th is St Catherine’s Day, patron of lace makers and spinsters whislt the 30th is the day of St Andrew the King and in parts of Kent and Sussex the right to hunt squirrels was granted. We are reminded that snow is not unusual at this time of year and parts of the West Country have already received some, so will we have a white Christmas?