Meadow yellow

Meadow yellow
Bulbous Buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus) in a Devon meadow

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Four and twenty blackberries

It is that time of the year that the hedgerows are bursting with the black-ripe fruits of Blackberry and elder, ink-blue sloes, bright red haws and browning hazelnuts. But not this year. The few blackberries I have seen are mean looking, grizzled and diminished. Flies hungrily surround the few succulent fruits. Hazelnuts that I scooped up in handfuls last year, cracked and roasted for my morning muesli with blackberries, are all but absent. A quick scan of the internet revealed that I am not alone in noticing the poor crop this year of blackberries. The Guardian (2012) reported on this a few days ago, “the cool, wet spring and summer has delayed the season for berries on bramble, blackthorn, elder and other bushes, and these are only beginning to ripen. They also seem to be smaller than usual.”   

So what is actually causing such low yields in much of Britain? Could it be that the prolonged poor weather reduced insect activity so much that many bramble flowers were simply not pollinated? I know anecdotally that local beekeepers in unprecedented action had to feed their bees this spring/summer on sugar solution, as they were starving from not being able to go out and forage. Combine this with a lack of warm temperatures to ripen the fruit, and it is hardly any wonder there is such a low yield.

What will the impact on wildlife that feast on this autumn harvest? Blackberries are a vital food supply for a wide range of mammals such as badgers, dormice, hedgehogs and foxes; birds like blackbirds, bullfinches, chaffinches, magpies and song thrushes; and insects including butterflies, wasps and moths (BBC, 2012). I will therefore be leaving what’s left of the sad blackberry crop to these creatures and adapt my muesli mix, making use of some garden autumn golden raspberries planted this year. Let’s hope our British wildlife can be equally adaptive.
BBC (2012) Blackberry crop threatened by record dry spring [Online] [Accessed 26/09/12]

Guardian (2012) Plantwatch: This autumn likely to provide a brilliant display of colours [Online] [Accessed 26/09/12]  

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