Its Autumn and the fruits of the woodland and hedgerows provide us with nutrient rich high energy food, free for the taking. The trees are in fruition and in their best condition before the winter months push them into hibernation. To have an understanding which trees inhabit your locale, is an invaluable fieldcraft skill and one that I’ve been fairly in experienced with, up until late. With mentors and a good few guide books at hand, it’s quite easy to get up to speed and then go out identifying the trees one by one. I’ve made it part of my day to know be more observant of what trees are around me when I’m out and about.
The autumn season is all about foraging, and its the time when the land gives the most to us for harvest. Its an abundant time in nature, so why not head out into your surroundings and identify which are the trees that bear fruits. Weather your picking hazel nuts, walnuts, apples, pears, cherries, figs, horse or chestnuts just head to your nearest forest, public park or river bank and juts have a look whats growing round, you’ll be surprised at how many trees there are that you recognise. This knowledge was not standard for me, It seems as though, this knowledge has skipped a generation or two, so its time to put a little back into our again. I think that the digital age has brought many conveniences, advances and crazy opportunities, like me sharing information with you all for instance, however it comes at a cost. The digtal world disconnects us from the wholesomeness of nature and its cool beauty, intelligence and mysticism.
Our ancestors in Anglesey, knew of this and practiced many elements as scholars such as, botany, anatomy, celestial navigation and metaphysics. Their understanding of nature, was very advanced and they living in harmony with the land. Its high time as a society, we reconnected with nature and get our feet back into the dirt and tune into the daily and seasonal cycles, occurring in nature. I used to work offshore as geologist and out at sea, I missed all the seasons, every year, for years. Now I get to see the British season unfold in the natural rhythms and its a joy to watch. The past three weeks, I have been doing more foraging than normal and a part of that is foraging the fruits of the local trees. Whilst doing so I realised there was, a gap in my knowledge of the local trees off north Wales. Now when we are talking tress of north Wales, we are trying to get closer to what the natural native species are. Now by no means at all am I an expert ,and I’m learning just like the rest of you. I have prepared a list of which these trees where considered native to the UK and of these I have been through and filtered them to now contain what are more relavnet species to north Wales in particular.
So whilst forgoing I pay particular attention to what trees are in my surroundings, they not only give you an indiction to where you will find companion species of plants, but they often occur in similar geographic, climatic and relief related locations. So by paying attention to the trees and the land, it will open up other areas of your perception, finding you more goodies.
The main tree foraging species I have been getting my goodies from lately are Apple, Horse chestnut, Hazel, Sycamore, oak, Crab apple, Buckthorn and beech. Big tip, Beech trees that I have found, almost always have some chanterelle mushrooms around them in September.. So this Autumn its worth while to keep your eyes off the floor and on the hedge line for some edible forays that are provided by out rooted friends. My aim here is two fold:
Firstly introduce to you the most popular species of tree that I’m seeing here in north Wales on my walks (Tree specialists : please correct me of feel free to add any that I missed!) and secondly to see what trees produce what seed, fruit and nut that is useful for foraging forays. Now I’m not saying they are edible- moreover, this is a very simplified guide, to what fruit each tree produces -if any- (ones that I’m not sure about I won’t mention) and I must please ask of you not in any case to go eat wild founds from trees solo.
So below are the main types of tree that I have been spotting on my travels accompanied by the fruit that they offer, I will in another blog, go into more detail on what we then do with that said fruit and turn it into a delectable snack or foraged goodie.
Alder is native to continental Europe and thrives in cool, damp areas such as wet woodlands and marshes. It can be found near moist grounds near lakes, ponds and rivers. This tree offers food to several moths and caterpillars including blue bordered carpet moth, pebble hook-tip and alder kitten. Alder wood is porous and soft and is utilized in the construction of water pipes, sluice gates and boats.
Ash is the third most common tree that can be found in Britain. This tree can live up to 400 years if coppiced. The early leaf fall and airy canopy permits the sunlight to reach the floor thereby providing optimum conditions for growth of wildflowers and for different species of wildlife. Ash timber absorbs shocks and is one of the toughest hardwoods. It is used for making oars, hockey sticks, spades, axes and hammers.
This deciduous broadleaf tree is native to most of Europe. It is known to attract a variety of inspects that feed on dead wood. These insects provide food to predators such as ladybirds. Deadwood cavities offer nesting opportunities to birds such as woodpecker. Aspen wood is light in weight and was earlier used for making paddles and oars.
Beech is a large deciduous tree that is native to South Wales and southern England. Owing to its dense canopy, rare species of plants are associated with beech woodland. The timber is utilized for numerous purposes such as for making sports equipment, tool handles, in cooking utensils and for making furniture.
- Birch – Silver
This deciduous broadleaf tree has an open and light canopy thereby offering perfect conditions for wood sorrel, bluebells, wood anemone, mosses and grasses. The wood is heavy and tough thereby making it suitable for making toys, handles and furniture. It was earlier used for making reels, spools and bobbins. The bark is utilized for tanning leather.
Also popular as Sloe, this small deciduous tree offers a valuable source of pollen and nectar for the bees during spring. The timber from Blackthorn is tough and hardwearing. It was traditionally employed for making tool parts and walking sticks. It is also used as firewood as it burns exceptionally well.
This tree is found in woodlands surrounding Britain and is the main source of food for Brimstone Butterfly. The bark and fruits from this tree were traditionally used for making a yellow dye. The wood is dense and hard and is rarely used. The berries have a luxating effect and can irritate the skin.
The Wild Cherry is the most ornamental tree owing to its colourful spring flowers that also provide a source of pollen and nectar for the bees. The cherries are mostly eaten by the birds and mammals including Song Thrush, Badger, Dormouse and Blackbird. The cherries were planted primarily for their wood and fruit. The wood was used for making vine poles and cask hoops.
- Crab Apple
Crab apples thrive in woods and in the hedgerows. The leaves are food for caterpillars. The flowers are source of nectar and pollen for bees. The fruit is usually eaten by birds including crows, thrushes and blackbirds. The trees are usually planted in commercial orchards. The fruit is roasted and served with meat and added to punches or ales.
The flowers of this small deciduous tree provide nectar to a variety of insects. The berries get eaten by the mammals and birds. The elder wood is hard and used for carving and whittling when matured. The berries and flowers can be mildly poisonous and must be cooked before eating. The flowers are used for making fritters, tea and wine.
Several birds feed the seeds of this deciduous broadleaf tree which is native of the UK. Elm wood is durable and strong. It is resistant to water and has been utilized for decorative turning and for making boats, wheel hubs, furniture, coffins, floorboards and water pipes.
Hawthorn is found growing usually in woodland and hedgerows. It supports over 300 insects and is a food plant for several species of moths. Rich in antioxidants, the haws are eaten by several migrating birds. The timber is hard and finely grained. It can be used for engraving and in turnery.
Found often in woodland, hedgerows and in scrub all over Europe, the leaves of Hazel provide food to several species of moths. It offers a suitable habitat for several butterflies and ground-nesting birds when coppiced. Hazelwood can be knotted and twisted and is used for making furniture. It was earlier grown in largescale for the nuts.
An evergreen shrub with glossy leaves and distinct spikes, the Holly offers good nesting opportunities and dense covers to birds. The leaf litter is used by small mammals and hedgehogs for hibernation. The flowers provide pollen and nectar for pollinating insects. The smooth leaves serve as food for the deer. The berries are source of food for birds during winter.
This broadleaf deciduous tree is loved by aphids. The leaves are consumed by different species of moths. Field maple produces the highest density and hardest timber of all the maples found in Europe. The wood features a silky shine. It is used traditionally for making musical instruments such as harps and for carving.
English oak is one of the most loved trees in Britain. Oak forests provide a rich habitat to several life forms. The falling acorns are utilized by the deer and badgers during autumn. Oaks are known for producing durable and hardest timbers. These are used as firewood, for making wine barrels and for flooring. Tannin found in the bark has been used for processing leather since Roman times.
This evergreen conifer is one of the three conifers that are native to the UK. Pine forests are home to rare species of orchids and mammals. Pine timber is one of the strongest softwoods that you can find and is used in joinery and in the construction industry. It is also used for making fencing, gate posts and pit props.
This deciduous tree has wood that is fine in texture and almost white in colour. It can withstand shock and was earlier used for making matches. The timber is currently used for making toys, shelves, pallets and wine cases. The tree provides food to several species of moths. The catkins provide nectar and pollen for bees and other insects.
Also popular as Mountain Ash, this tree features wood that is hard, strong as well as tough. It is used for engraving, craftwork and in making furniture. This widely planted street tree yields Rowan Berries that are edible and rich in vitamin C. the leaves serve as food to numerous species of moths.
This evergreen tree offers nesting opportunities and protection to several birds. The smallest birds of the UK including the Fire Crest and the Gold Crest nest in Yew woodlands. The fruit is eaten by small mammals and birds. The timber is incredibly strong and closely grained. It is durable and is used for making tool handles and long bows.
Last but not least and totally out of alphabetical order! The humble apple has been the staple of many monasteries in north Wales over the past two thousand years, and probably many thousand before it. The apple provided a staple in the autumnal months for the winter gaps. The Isle of Anglesey was formally known as Avalon, Affal in Welsh means apple, so the island of apples would have been apt to describe the many apple groves that inhabited the island. With over 200 varieties said to have existed by some scholars, its a robust and genetically strong tree.
I hope this proves to be useful as a quick reference guide to the trees of north Wales. I will update it as I go and learn, so check back in a month as there maybe more here then. Go and get yourself a book or two on the subject and do a little homework of checking out what trees are in your local area, get used to judging their shape, leaves and style of foliage, and where they are normally found most abundantly. You will begin to find patterns within nature of where things like to be, from this you’ll have your won foray road map of your local area or forest. Enjoy.
Word of caution : I am not a bushcraft or foraging instructor (yet !) and the blogs are meant as informative means, rather than, how to guides. Do not go and eat wild plants, berries and tree fruits without going on or with experts in the field craft. As you will find yourself quite ill, quite quickly! Go pick, identify, learn and compare and get aquatinted to whats around on the trees at this point in the season, but then consolidate this knowledge with an amazing instructor who can bring the culinary side of this together in a course.
Instructors and compnaies that I recommend locally are :
1 – Dave Phillips aka the coastal wanderer (from Conwy area)
2- Naturebites – great company with a lovely ethos
3- North Wales wildlife trust – Great comply doing amazing things for wildlife in north Wales. Love what they do and they are very active on events- see our Facebook events page
4- Woodfest – festival in north Wales in late September (just been sadly!)
5- Woodland festival – Plas Newydd Anglesey
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Bit about the blogger : My names Nicholas Fraser and I’m a local Marine Geologist and Oceanographer. I have moved back to the island of Anglesey for the past four years having grown up here and moved away. I am a passionate outdoor lover with a penchant for all things natural. When I’m not blogging in ofter found on the water, climbing or out in the wild in and around north Wales.