Raisby Hill Grassland, November 2019

After a very hard frost and sub-zero temperatures lasting well through the day I wasn’t expecting to find anything at all in flower at Raisby Hill on the final day of November and my expectations were not confounded.  My walk round the site was really just an excuse to photograph beautiful leaf colours and seed heads with an elegant dusting of ice crystals and to cheer myself up after a damp, gloomy week. That worked, at least!

What did I learn? That most of the site faces directly North and so, even at midday, is barely touched by the sun at this time of year – it remains absolutely freezing (no exaggeration, in this case).

That the Exmoor ponies which overwinter on the site to keep down rank grass growth have the most fantastic fringes but are hungry when the ground is frozen – you can’t get a camera out of your pocket for a close up photo without them getting over-excited about the prospect of a snack!

That leaves of all shapes and sizes have their edges and veins outlined in a delicate tracery of ice crystals – it must be something to do with which parts of the leaf lose water most rapidly.  Whilst leaves remain on plants, a sudden drop in temperature causes water to leave the conducting tissue (xylem) found in the leaf veins so as to avoid damaging cells if it freezes; when water freezes it expands and ruptures cell membranes, which breaks open cells and kills them.   

And that now that the leaves have gone from the trees it’s much easier to see the birds feeding on berries and seeds – there are groups of Redwings or Fieldfares now amongst the tits and other small birds in the woodland and hedgerows.

A beautiful walk showing that local nature reserves like Raisby Hill have much to offer even in the depths of winter!

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