Autumn puts the spotlight on the power of trees
TREESs are fascinating. They give us the air we breathe and provide us with building materials. And they are also great indicators of the changing seasons.
Autumn is approaching fast and the signs are everywhere. The mornings and nights are a bit darker, there is a chill in the air and the grass is covered in morning dew.
One thing I really don't look forward to is the summer visiting birds making their way back to warmer climates, taking with them the screams of the swifts overhead on a sunny summer's evening.
Walking through the woods the other morning, I noticed how quiet it was apart from the odd wood pigeon "cooing" away.
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The horse chestnut trees look as if they've done ten rounds in a boxing ring after the attentions of the leaf miner moth. The leaves are all brown and within the next month the trees will have dropped almost all of them and shut themselves down for a long winter's sleep.
One tree in particular fascinates me - the good old hazel.
It has been used by humans for thousands of years, producing edible nuts and providing us with many types of wood.
I did a basket-weaving course here at Stoke Park last week. We used ash wood for the base and hazel for the uprights. Sadly, the hazel withies (new shoots) were still a bit soft and green so we used ivy instead for the weave.
Hazel also makes fantastic charcoal and here at Stoke Park you can see it within the lime-based mortar of the eighteenth-century walls.
The poles hazel produces have long been used for hurdle fences and it's fantastic for carving, too.
But it's probably best known for making walking sticks.
Hazel is a soft wood and is great for burning because it generates a lot of heat fast. There is an old saying when selecting types of wood for cooking: "Soft wood for boiling and hard wood for broiling".
If you want a wood that will burn hot but last a lot longer - to cook food, for example - then ash is best for that job.
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Steve England is an (RHS) horticulturist, amateur naturalist andchairman of the Stoke Park steering group. He lives in Lockleaze and has spent his whole life at Stoke Park from playing there as a boy to studying its history, wildlife, and pre historic past.