Autumn (August-October)

AUTUMN (August-October)

Here is a season by season guide to spotting different nature & wildlife on your farm.

It is just a start, we need your help to build it up – please send in your ideas and help us create a rich calendar for what is on the farm and practical notes on how to enhance it: info@farmingfornature.ie

 

View and download the Autumn Guides August   September October

 

NOTICING NATURE – AND SOME WAYS TO HELP IT! ADDITIONAL PRACTICAL NOTES
  INTRO As the farming year unfolds, are you keeping your eye out for what wildlife appears on your farm?

What flower or bird brings you joy as the seasons change?

What can you look forward to appearing this month?

What wildlife might be on your land?

What more can you do to encourage it and enhance it?

Here is a month by month guide to help you farm for nature!

This is just a start – please help us create a rich calendar to celebrate and support farming for nature!

What have we forgotten?

Do you have any useful ‘nature hacks’ to share?
Let us know on info@farmingfornature.ie

If you have any queries why not put it in our Forum on the website and allow other farmers to answer.  See here.

AUGUST
Everywhere! Tired birds are quieter this month, as they lie low to moult or finish raising late broods. Our crow (corvid) species continue to be vocal though – how many of our seven native species of crow can you spot around the farm? Our farming practices (open pastures) and low densities of predators (e.g. buzzards) mean that Ireland has some of the densest populations of crows in Europe. See if you can tick off the rook, jackdaw, hooded crow, carrion crow, chough, raven and jay! These species have strong family bonds and they are incredibly smart – google the intelligence of crows and be amazed!
Bogs The bilberry or ‘frochan’ is traditionally gathered on both the last day of July and during the festival of Lughnasadh in August. Also known as whortleberries, blaeberries, huckleberries, and whinberries, these berries provide rich pickings for wildlife and humans alike!
Buildings & walls Herring gulls are spending more and more time inland and away from their natural coastal habitats. The main reason for this is declining fish stocks (from overfishing), which is causing herring gulls to seek food in cities or to follow the plough. When drawn away from the coast, they often choose human structures to roost or to build their nests. Did you know herring gulls can live for 30 years?
Coastal farms Estuaries occur where freshwater and saltwater meet, creating vibrant and complex, but fragile, ecosystems. Heavy rain during the summer can spell disaster for these habitats, as agricultural run-off travels into watercourses and onwards out to sea. Slowing the flow of water across the land, for example through the creation of wetlands and natural dams, can help to prevent pollution from farm run-off during a summer deluge!
Garden or farmyard Late summer is when some of our ‘exotics’ are on show. The orange flowers of montbretia and the bright red flowers of fuschia are exuberant in some parts of Ireland in August, but few people realize that these are native to South America and were originally introduced to Ireland as garden plants. Not as aggressively invasive as some of the Himalayan knotweeds and balsams, care should nonetheless be taken not to introduce these ‘honorary natives’ to new areas.
Hedgerows Berries in the hedges are ripening Brambles, blackthorn, crab apple, hawthorn and other shrubs will all soon be weighed down by their autumn loads. These berries will be important food sources for birds such as thrushes, blackbirds, starlings and smaller birds going into winter. Delay cutting these hedges until much later in the year so that wildlife can benefit as much as possible.
Hill pasture Can you spot any stands of birch trees on hill pasture this summer? We have become used to seeing much of the Irish uplands as grazed, rolling hillside, which is beautiful in its own right. However, in the past, belts of birch woodland (and other species) were a natural feature of Irish hillsides, while charismatic species such as the golden eagle soared overhead. Diversifying upland habitats through high nature value farming could make them more resilient, provide for wildlife and offer tourism potential for the future.
Pasture, meadows & field margins Plant a herbal ley?

 

 

Can you find space to allow some tussocky grass and wildflower seed heads to remain uncut through winter?

Late summer colours are still to be seen, with purples, blues and yellows to the fore.

 

 

 

Look out for late-flowering orchids in your pastures and meadows

 

 

Late summer and early autumn is a good time to see fungi sending forth their fruits – mushrooms!

A native grass-wild flower mix sown now increases the value of the area for wildlife, especially pollinators. The weather in August – warm spells and showers – may suit the establishment of these leys. Contact your seed merchant for info.

 

Allowing tussocky grass and wildflower seed heads to remain in field margins, along tracks and roadside verges and in gardens, will provide food and shelter for invertebrates and other wildlife.

Knapweed and scabious flowers are common at this time of year, as well as harebells. Complementing the purples and blues are an array of yellows – including bedstraws, ragwort and goldenrod. The latter two flowers are deceptively similar, though one is far more benign than the other! Delaying the mowing of hay meadows into August will allow some of the taller herbs to spread their seed, as well as providing food for insects and birds.

 

While it’s getting late in the season for orchids, you can still see fragrant and pyramidal orchids in bloom, also some helleborines. But one of the rarest and most beautiful of Ireland’s orchids, the autumn lady’s tresses, is best seen at this time of year. Try not to graze orchid-rich areas too heavily in August, light grazing now followed by heavier grazing into the autumn would be ideal.

 

In Ireland, the field mushroom is the only commonly eaten species. It has a white cap and salmon pink to brown gills. Field mushrooms grow best on old unimproved pasture, particularly where horses have been grazed.

Ponds Look out for caddisflies skimming over the water on warm august days. If you’re removing excess vegetation or pondweed from your pond, dispose of it away from the banks of the pond – otherwise as it decays the nutrients will leach back into your pond, causing yet more vegetation growth!
Streams & rivers The frothy pinkish white of hemp agrimony in flower can be spotted in wet areas. At up to two metres tall, you wouldn’t immediately recognise hemp agrimony as a member of the daisy family!
Tillage fields Create beetle banks.  Use a plough to create a ridge of earth about 40cm (16inches) high and 2m (about 6.5 feet) wide. Sow with tussock and mat-forming native grasses, like timothy, cocksfoot, or fescues. To allow wildlife to move to and from the bank, the distance between it and the field boundary should be less than 25m. These banks provide a habitat for many beneficial insects and nesting birds.
Wet or rough ground Lots of late blooming flowers appear on heavy, wettish ground around now. Purple loosestrife, willowherbs and meadowsweet (so called as it was once used to sweeten mead) are big, showy plants often found in profusion at this time in hedges and on wettish areas, but one of the most stunningly beautiful flowers in Ireland, the delicate ‘grass of parnassus’ is also found on damp ground at this time and is worth the search.
Woods Let the ivy grow in the hedgerow as a key source of nectar for the pollinators. Some people worry about ivy growth but, unless it’s causing real damage, the consensus seems to be that it’s better to leave it. Where growth is very heavy, prune it back from the crown of the tree to prevent the weight of the ivy causing the tree to blow down. Its early season flowers are vital for bees and the fruits are important late-winter feed for birds.
Further tips for our planet!
Climate Have you considered using new farm technology to help you to reduce your carbon footprint? Robots, drones, GPSs and tractor sensors are becoming increasingly easy to operate from your mobile phone. This new technology is designed to help to reduce chemical inputs through targeted spreading.
Pollinators Can you hear a loud buzzing in woodland glades? It’s likely the sound of one of our 180 species of native hoverfly. Fruit flies are also amassing in numbers wherever summer fruits are allowed to over ripen. We have over 30 species of fruit fly (also known as vinegar fly) in Ireland.
Water quality Would you like to know more about the water quality on your farm or in your catchment? One way of finding out how healthy your water bodies are is to monitor the presence of indicator species or ‘bio-indicators’. Indicator species are plants, animals or fungi whose presence gives you a good idea of how healthy an ecosystem is. In terms of water quality, dragonflies and damselflies are useful indicator species. To find out more about how to monitor these and other species on your farm, check out biodiversityireland.ie

 

SEPTEMBER
Everywhere! Parting is such sweet sorrow … around this time is our last chance of the year to admire our swallows and swifts before they make their return trip to Africa.


Wildflowers
, bees, bats, birds and butterflies are still visible in September but usually in decreasing numbers. It can be a good time to identify them and to begin your own farm nature audit.

As we say goodbye to these wonderful summer migrants, we can say hello to many more. Lots of birds visit Ireland in the winter, with some geese trumpeting their return around this time.

 

Among the more obvious flowering plants seen in grasslands in September are scabious, knapweed, ox-eye daisy, eyebrights and harebell.

Bogs As September comes around the palette of the bog is gently shifting to autumnal tones Take a closer look at the many species of bog moss that make up the ever-changing landscape
Buildings & walls Can you spot a common lizard basking on a warm rock? The common (or viviparous) lizard is Ireland’s one and only native reptile. As it is cold-blooded, it needs a warm spot to lie and absorb the heat of the sun. Watch for lizards on rocks, sand or timber – they also need some shelter into which to run if they sense danger – dry stone walls can be great.
Coastal farms Did you know there are over 600 varieties of seaweed growing around the Irish coastline? Traditionally, coastal farmers harvested seaweed for use as food, medicine or fertiliser. Commonly harvested species include carrageen, dulse and kelp.
Garden or farmyard As nights become colder, wildlife starts to prepare for the winter to come.

 

The common puffball is visible now and easy to identify by its white, football-like fruiting body.

Where possible, resist the temptation to ‘tidy’ as summer draws to a close! – seed heads and dying vegetation provide crucial food sources and warm nooks for over-wintering wildlife.


Puffballs
have a spout (opening) at their centre. When a leaf or raindrop falls on the ball, the pressure of the impact causes the ball to ‘puff’ out spores through its spout!

Hedgerows The concept of hedgerow as nature’s larder is never more apparent than at this time of year when a wide variety of fruit and nuts are available. A really nice idea for adults and kids alike is to take a stretch of hedgerow and collect a sample of each type of fruit or nut available. Blackberries, haws, rosehips, rowanberries, crab-apples, guelder rose and spindle fruits… so many types, colours and shapes. Lay these out on a white surface and take a photo of them to send on to us.
Hill pasture Time to head for the hills before the winter sets in! Fewer farmers now actively manage their flocks in upland areas than in the past. Regularly walking the land is a wonderful way to watch nature unfold throughout the year, as well as to keep an eye on any unintended impacts that the flock may be having on the environment.
Pasture, meadows & field margins Areas of species rich grassland should be grazed, or the excess vegetation removed by hand tools/machinery, from now on, if it hasn’t been already.

 

 

On the heads of thistle and teasel you may spot the bright yellow and red of the goldfinch snacking on the seeds at this time.

By removing excess vegetation, you are allowing more space and light for wildflowers to germinate next spring, as well as reducing the nutrient levels in the soil which also encourages greater biodiversity. Saying that, leaving some areas of ungrazed rough grassland will also provide warm nooks for overwintering wildlife – as always, the more diversity of habitat you can provide the better!

Leaving at least some seed-bearing plants to stand into the winter provides food and shelter for lots of birds as they try to build up energy for the winter ahead, or for long flights overseas.

Ponds Can you spot any perfectly formed tiny froglets that have made it through the summer? Early Autumn is the ideal time to construct, or do maintenance work on, a pond.

 

 

Before the ground gets too wet, think about building a pond, one of the very best actions for nature. Or take time to improve your existing pond – excess silt can be removed from ponds between September and November. This should be done in small sections over a 3-4-year rotation. If silt builds up, eventually it chokes out the aquatic vegetation.
Streams & rivers Autumn into winter is a good time to carry out some stream or riverbank management. Some streams will be too small for fish like trout to thrive but may still offer productive spawning habitat and boast a healthy community of freshwater insects and other critters. A healthy balance of light and shade are very important for this habitat so now that bird-nesting season is over some carefully planned and targeted work can be done on bankside trees. This can help to prevent over-shading the watercourse.
Tillage fields Have you ever heard of ‘Worm Tea’?

 

 As sowing gets underway, it’s a good time to think about seed treatments. Chemical inoculation of seed can be damaging to soil and water systems. Worm Tea (aka vermi liquid) is one example of a nature-friendly biological seed treatment (it is extracted from worm-filled compost). Such treatments act as natural biostimulants (making crops stronger and more resilient). Take some time to investigate how you can treat your seed at home with nature friendly inoculants and cut down on chemical seed treatments.
Wet or rough ground Look out for the tiny, orange (and aptly named) small copper butterfly. While not a favourite of the farmer, docks are a favourite food plant of the small copper butterfly.

 

Have you ever noticed how grasses in unfertilised swards often grow up more strongly directly around a dock? The root of the dock is long and strong (as you may know from trying to pull them up!). This long root breaks up the soil pan and carries nutrients back to the surface of the soil, where the shallow rooting grasses can reach them.
Woods If you are interested in planting some native trees on your land this winter, it might be worthwhile pre-ordering some as soon as possible, as supplies are very limited at present. Always try to source plants grown in Ireland from native seed, ideally as local to you as possible. These trees will grow best in Ireland and buying local stock also reduces the risk of introducing diseases to Ireland from stock grown elsewhere. Better yet – gather your own seed and grow your own – it’s really easy and lots of fun, and there are plenty of online resources to help you!
Further tips for our planet!
Climate Grazing livestock outside for as much of the year as possible is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. The production of soya based concentrate feed is contributing to deforestation of the rainforest. Think about how best to manage your covers this autumn to ensure that you can minimise feeding meal by closing covers late and opening them early.
Pollinators Did you know that flowers use their bright colours to indicate to pollinators the depth of their nectar stores?! Yellow or white flowers, for example, have shallow nectar stores, while pink, red and blue flowers have deeper nectar stores. Different species of pollinators have different mouthparts that only allow them to access nectar at a certain depth – so flowers use colour to attract the right insects! Many pollinators also prefer relatively inconspicuous tiny green flowers – so bright colours are not always best. To provide for everyone’s mouthparts, try to maintain lots of different colours in your pollinator strips. The best way to do this is to avoid using chemical sprays or fertilisers, and to manage the strips extensively, simply cutting or grazing back the dead vegetation once per year. While store bought seed mixes can be colourful, the advice from the All Ireland Pollinator Plan is ‘Don’t Sow Let it Grow’: natural regeneration of wildflowers from the natural seed bank in your soil is better than store bought alternatives – and it’s free!
Water quality September can be a good time to consider how best to better manage run-off from the farmyard before the winter sets in. It can be helpful to make a list of all of the potential sources of damaging run-off from your farmyard. Some of these (e.g. slurry, pesticides) are more obvious than others (e.g. spoil from tractor tyres, washings or waste silage). Every yard is different – take a few minutes to consider how you might reduce run-off from your own yard this winter.

 

OCTOBER
Everywhere! Geese arrive on our shores and wet grasslands. Do they come to you each winter? Ireland is a really important overwintering destination for some of these visitors like the barnacle goose, the light-bellied brent goose and the Greenland white-fronted goose. Accidentally disturbing these birds, or moving them on while they are feeding or roosting, can really affect their body condition ahead of their breeding season in northern climes.
Bogs As rainfall increases, bogs act as giant sponges, absorbing water and then slowly releasing it. Rewetting sections of peat bog can be a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way of reducing flood risk downstream, while also creating valuable wildlife habitat. Is there a man-made drain on your land that could be blocked? – watch as wildlife returns!
Buildings & walls It’s that time of year when house spiders always seem to be on the move ..and in a hurry! This flurry of activity is mainly caused by males looking for females. Males mature in the autumn (at 2 years old) and start charging around looking for a mate!
Coastal farms Ireland’s coastal saltmarshes were once considered of little use to farmers. However, saltmarshes are now being recognised as of increasing importance in terms of providing a buffer between productive agricultural land and rising sea levels. However, as seas continue to rise due to climate change, our coastal saltmarshes are being squeezed out. In response, some farmers are choosing to conserve this natural buffer zone by allowing the saltmarsh to creep further inland. This not only protects their productive fields by maintaining a buffer zone between the farm and rising tides, but also conserves a unique habitat, home to a variety of rare salt-tolerant plant species.
Garden or farmyard Hedgehogs are beginning to hibernate.

 

 

 

Rake up leaf litter into piles and leave over the winter months for moth and butterfly larvae.

A Hedgehog entering hibernation builds a ragged, ball-shaped nest made from grass and autumn leaves. A well-built nest can be vital to survival, as can choice of nest site. Ideally the nest site should be sheltered and safe. A site deep in a thick hedge (or under a shed) brings obvious benefits.

 

Earthworms will break down the leaves to enrich the soil over time. If leaves need to be moved, move them into an area where they can be left alone for wildlife such as hedgehogs and foraging birds.

Hedgerows Fieldfares and redwings are snacking on earthworms and berries. These thrush-like birds come to Ireland for the winter and need plenty of food to help restore their strength.
Hill pasture As grass growth will begin to drop off soon, it’s a good time to consider how winter stocking levels might impact on the long-term health of the farm. Could selling store lambs in August/September help to prevent overgrazing this winter? Overgrazing can lead to erosion and a reduction of sward diversity as grasses replace native heathers, sedges and bryophytes.
Pasture, meadows & field margins Allow some tussocky grass and wildflower seed heads to remain uncut through winter to provide food and shelter for wildlife. As the days continue to shorten, the value for wildlife of autumnal vegetation in field margins, along tracks and roadside verges, and in gardens, should not be underestimated.
Ponds Pond plants are beginning to die back as the weather cools and the days shorten. Building ponds can be addictive – is there room on the farm for another one?!
Streams & rivers Eels were once common in all of Ireland’s waterways, but are more difficult to spot now. Our eels are believed to hatch in the Sargasso Sea (off North America) before making their way across the Atlantic to Ireland, where they swim up our rivers as elvers. Eels spend up to 50 years growing in our waterways until, on a new moon in autumn, with the river in flood, they ‘run’ downstream and back out to sea where they re-cross the Atlantic to spawn and die.
Tillage fields Wild bird cover and other crops like fodder radish or weedy winter stubbles will be providing valuable food for birds and small mammals. These crops will feed small birds such as the yellowhammer, skylark and linnet, as well as small mammals that themselves will feed predators like the kestrel, sparrowhawk and even the rare hen harrier.
Wet or rough ground Whooper swans arrive – listen out for their honking voice, which can sound like an old-fashioned car horn! These swans arrive from their breeding grounds in Iceland to spend the winter in the mild and wet Irish climate in wetland areas.
Woods Ivy is a vital source of food for pollinators ahead of the winter.

 

Resist the temptation to ‘tidy up’ older trees or trees with broken limbs as these may be useful for wildlife.

 

In woodlands, watch out for brightly coloured orange-peel fungus and amethyst deceiver mushrooms.

If you can leave ivy in place – trimming it back perhaps instead of getting rid of it altogether – it will be of great benefit to nature, particularly in spring and autumn.

 

Bats and birds may roost and nest in your woodland, particularly in old or hollow trees. Rotting wood also plays host to a whole variety of insect and fungal life.

 

The ink-cap mushroom or ‘lawyer’s wig’ is also visible in October.  The ink-cap is one of a number of mushrooms that stuns and digests nematode worms using underground hyphae – a carnivorous mushroom!

Further tips for our planet!
Climate Energy is a significant cost on Irish farms, both to the climate and the farmer Check out www.smartfarming.ie for tips on how to reduce your on-farm energy footprint this winter.
Pollinators Most bumblebees have gone into hibernation by now, but you may still spot some pollinators out and about stocking up for the winter. It’s the perfect time to plant some pollinator friendly bulbs such as crocus, grape hyacinth and allium in gardens or around the yard or farm entrance. These will provide a great food source for pollinators and a welcome splash of colour in spring!
Water quality Slowing the flow of water is one of the best ways to reduce nutrient loss on farmland.

 

Drainage channels act as connecting corridors, moving contaminants quickly across the land and into watercourses. Is there a bottleneck in this drainage system where you could install a wetland? A wetland will slow the flow, allowing nutrients to be absorbed and sediment to be filtered by plant life before the water reaches watercourses. Wetlands are also great habitats for birds and insects!

Planting hedgerows or stands of trees on exposed land and steep slopes can also be a great way to slow the flow and prevent erosion and nutrient loss. At the same time, these trees will improve soil quality, boost biodiversity and provide food and shelter for livestock!

 

See more information here on Spring Summer  & Winter

Farming For Nature Offers Best Practice Guidelines and Actions to take on different land types here.


To investigate what native species you have or could encourage on your land
t
here are plenty of sources to help:

  • For native flowers – you can search by flowering month, colour or habitat go here
  • For native trees see here – it will give you advice on different trees go here
  • For native birds see here
  • For native butterflies see here
  • For a complete breakdown of all Irish species, the National Biodiversity Data Centre is the key source. See here.
  • Join the NBDC Farmers Wildlife Calendar Climate Tracker by recording and submitting your farmland species here.

This is body of work is supported by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and the Marine, and National Parks & Wildlife Service.

See more information here on Spring Summer  & Winter

Farming For Nature Offers Best Practice Guidelines and Actions to take on different land types here.


To investigate what native species you have or could encourage on your land
t
here are plenty of sources to help:

  • For native flowers – you can search by flowering month, colour or habitat go here
  • For native trees see here – it will give you advice on different trees go here
  • For native birds see here
  • For native butterflies see here
  • For a complete breakdown of all Irish species, the National Biodiversity Data Centre is the key source. See here.
  • Join the NBDC Farmers Wildlife Calendar Climate Tracker by recording and submitting your farmland species here.

This is body of work is supported by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and the Marine, and National Parks & Wildlife Service.

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