A countryside walk in August
With daylight hours slowly dwindling as we inch ever closer to autumn, August is a time of transition in our countryside and green spaces: after a busy few months, we switch to a slower pace. This sets us up perfectly for nature’s beautiful autumn swan song.
The slightly gentler rhythm of August makes it the ideal time to explore the outdoors and calmly take stock of our surroundings. What you see is the culmination of a lot of hard work in the natural world: the long grasses, the bare fields, the seed heads, the berries starting to form …
If you managed to take a stroll (or several) in July, I hope you spotted some of the things we mentioned in our previous article. We always love hearing about your countryside discoveries, so do share your adventures with us so that we can celebrate our green spaces together. You can get in touch with us via Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
Now, let’s take a closer look at what we might find on a countryside or green space walk in August.
The attributes of the soil in the ground differs depending on where you live. For example, some parts of the country have shallow, chalky soil which is very alkaline, and in other parts it is poorly draining, clay or acidic. Plants have different preferences for particular soil conditions.
Heather, or Calluna vulgaris, is a native evergreen plant which thrives in acidic conditions. It’s part of the ‘Ericacae’ family. This name might ring a bell – it’s where the name ‘ericaceous compost’ comes from, which is a growing medium for acid-loving plants.
You’re most likely to find heather on heathland, moorland, and even woodland with acidic or peaty soils. For much of the year it looks quite inconspicuous, with woody stems and narrow, evergreen leaves. But, in August, it springs to life with colour, completely carpeting the ground with delicate pink and purple shades.
Heather is also a magnet for a variety of pollinators, and a very important source of nectar later on in the year.
Wherever you live, the chances are you’ll have heathers growing relatively nearby. Visit your local Wildlife Trusts website to find out more and be sure to seek out this stunning plant.
While some berries have already passed their prime picking time, August is the ideal time to forage for brambles (or blackberries).
Brambles are scrambling, thorny shrubs with a chaotic growing habit. You can find them just about anywhere in England: waste ground, roadside verges, woodland, grassland, farmland and, of course, encroaching on gardens and green spaces too.
While it can be a bit of a thug, bramble plants do their bit for our ecosystem. Its flowers provide nectar for butterflies and other pollinators and its fruit is a tasty treat for thrushes and other birds. Also, the rough and tangled stems make a great hiding place for hedgehogs and dormice.
When foraging for brambles, choose the fruits that have a deep, rich colour, and fall easily off the stem. Wild brambles make an excellent wine, jam or coulis.
Other fruits to forage in August include elderberries (these usually need heating first, but make a great wine, and can be added to crumbles), and crab apples (which you can use to make a beautiful crab apple jelly). As with all wild foraging, be responsible and always ensure you leave plenty for the local wildlife.
Birds quieten down
We’ve spent the past several months building up to a crescendo bird action in June and July. During these two months, birds are constantly feeding their young, and migratory birds such as swifts and swallows flit and swoop through the sky, socialising and catching insects.
In August, however, birds quieten down a little bit. Young birds are starting to become independent from their parents; this might mean they’re a little less curious than they were as juveniles. Adult birds will be trying to recuperate, too, after an intense and demanding breeding season.
Adding to the difficulties, many species of bird undergo their annual moult in August. This is the prime time because it’s their first bit of downtime since winter, and the process of replacing old feathers with new ones is a long and arduous one. Birds will often keep well-hidden and rested during the moulting phase, which is a big reason why our gardens and green spaces seem less busy in August.
It’s not just the countryside and green spaces that become quieter. Our skies do too. This is because our lovely migratory visitors start to make their return journey to Africa, usually starting with swifts.
None of this means you won’t see or hear birds during August, but things are likely to feel just that little bit quieter. Be sure to make the most of swifts, swallows and house martins if you have them nearby, because their departure is imminent. The good news is that in September some of our other favourite birds will give us a little encore (of sorts).
If you’re having trouble identifying a bird, you can visit the RSPB website for help or check out this CPRE guide on dawn chorus birdsong.
A beautiful mess
The countryside can look a little untidy in August. Long grasses on fields and verges bend and fold as they bear the weight of their feathery seed heads. Summer flowering plants turn brown and go to seed. Summer crops are harvested, and hay meadows are cut, leaving behind dust in the air and stubble on cracked soil.
But these are all things that can give us a sense of connection to the time of the year, and they’re all positive in their own way.
Seed heads on plants provide food for birds and small mammals, and can look stunning in their own right (such as wild teasels and poppies). Long grasses provide the perfect shelter for field rodents and other small mammals, as well as the ideal habitat for grasshoppers and crickets. As for making hay – that’s just quintessential August!
With autumn snapping at our heels, it’s worth taking stock of the past few months while on your walk. Think about the energy and determination that plants and animals have needed to grow, to produce flowers, to feed their young, and simply survive. The landscape you say might be a little messy, and a little barren, but it’s all a reflection of all that work, and that’s what makes August so special.
That’s it for this month – but always bear in mind that these lists aren’t exhaustive. We hope you’re able to explore your local countryside and green spaces this month. Check back in September to find out what you might spot as autumn begins.