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The ‘favourite’ autumn season and climate

Monday 7th November 2022

It’s the time of year when attention turns more intensely to issues of climate change, as world leaders gather for the annual climate Conference of the Parties (COP). COP27 takes place from 6–18 November in Egypt. This year, for the first time, COP27 will have an official space for young people to hold and take part in discussions and negotiations. As climate change will affect today’s young people more than today’s political leaders, this is an important step forward in climate change discussions. The voices of young people, who have been such important advocates for climate change action, need to be amplified and connect with the policy makers of today.

With thoughts turning to the climate, we caught up with our Outdoor Learning and Ecology Manager, Dr Roger Baker, for his insight and experience in the woodland at the Science Oxford Centre this autumn.

An autumn view of the Science Oxford Centre woodland trail

A favourite season

Autumn is definitely my favourite season – the beautiful earthy colours, the lengthening shadows, the still-warm temperatures, with the knowledge that they won’t be there forever. My brother left the UK years ago for the constant warmth of an Asian country, stating the climate as one of his main motivations. Yet, whenever I speak to him, he seems to complain of the high humidity, the hot nights and expresses a desire to hide from the outside world in an air-conditioned building.

I’m not going to pretend that there aren’t some horrible winter days when even the hardiest individual would struggle to force themselves out of the front door into driving rain or sub-zero temperatures but, as John Steinbeck once said, “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” In reality, it is the seasonality of our climate that I love so much; the difference between them is what makes each one so special. Much like my children, they are all my favourites.


Why the season is important to ecology

But there is also an important ecological purpose to the seasons. Without the winter, the seeds that fall earlier in the year might not germinate. Many plants have evolved such that their seeds need to undergo ‘stratification’ to break their dormancy, that is to say they fall (in autumn), then have to experience a period of prolonged cold (the winter) before they will germinate (in spring). This makes perfect sense to ensure that the susceptible new seedlings don’t develop just as a harsh winter begins and before they are hardy enough to survive.


What climate change means for the woodland

The record high temperatures, and droughts that we have seen this summer are all examples of the weather extremes that we may have to get used to in years to come. These conditions are threatening the future of those plants that live in our typically ‘temperate’ woodlands. As a result of climatologists’ predictions, outdoor managers are having to look to warmer, drier parts of the world for species that might be suitable to fill the gaps that are left as others succumb to climate change.

Who knows, there may be a time when visitors, like my brother, come to the UK and observe species which were once more common in the forests of Asia or South America if this pattern continues. For now, I am enjoying autumn before turning my attention to the onset of winter, definitely my ‘other favourite’ season, with fresh frosty mornings, bright clear skies and the warmth of an open fire…

Getting closer to nature in the Science Oxford Centre woodland

Is autumn one of your favourite seasons, like Roger’s, too?

Nature Lab

To celebrate the season and the earthy colours that our Outdoor Learning and Ecology Manager loves, we’re running a Nature Lab on 12 November, suitable for children aged 5–9. They’ll be able to discover how leaves turn orange, yellow and red with chromatography, carry out experiments, discover the secrets of seeds and go on a woodland Rainbow Hunt to collect natural materials in gorgeous autumnal colours.

Does that sound like a magical way to spend time as a family on Saturday? To find out more and book your place, visit here.

You can read more about Roger’s role with The Association of Science and Discovery Centres’ feature on Green Careers Week.

Main image: Science Oxford Centre aerial view from drone, by Jared Reabow

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