Savour the splendour of autumn’s colours with a National Trust day out

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The sunny spell towards the end of September together with six months of high levels of sunshine have boosted the chances of a “spectacular and prolonged” autumn display of colour, according to experts at the National Trust.

The duration and intensity of autumn colour rely on lots of sunshine for trees to bask in prior to the season’s arrival.

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Although the very dry spring caused stress to some trees, classic summer weather with good levels of both sunshine and rain has given trees the best chance of staying in leaf and retaining their full crowns until temperatures start to drop and colour starts to develop.

Warm summers with lots of sunshine, help to increase the leaf sugar content which, in turn, results in a range of pigments – from reds and oranges, to greens, golds and browns – as leaves turn.

The Palladian Bridge in Stowe Landscape Gardens, surrounded by shades of autumn (photo: Robert Truman/National Trust)

Tom Hill is the trust’s trees and woodland advisor for the south east. He said: “Judging by how the weather had been over the past few weeks I’d expect our autumn colour to be at its peak in mid to late October.

“A woodland may be ancient, but it never stands still – it is literally teeming with life at all times of year, not just above ground, but beneath our feet.

“The falling leaves nourish the soil and produce a habitat of their own, supporting billions of microscopic organisms that provide the building blocks for all life in the forest. It’s also a special time of year to appreciate the amazing natural architecture of our trees as their branches are revealed for the first time in months.”

The conservation charity cares for more than ten million trees in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and looks after one of the largest populations of ancient and veteran trees in the world.

Simon Toomer, plant specialist at the National Trust, said: “Autumn in the northern hemisphere is one of the natural world’s great spectacles. It starts in the far northern deciduous forests and progresses southwards to the warm temperate regions over about a ten-week period. Our northern gardens and woodlands are therefore a week or two ahead of the most southerly.

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“The primary trigger for trees to begin the process of shutting down for the winter and shedding leaves is day length but weather conditions through the summer and early autumn affect the rate of leaf loss and intensity of colour.

“North America and Japan are the best-known global hotspots for autumn colour and we are lucky that many of our gardens and parks have many trees from these areas. This variety of species ensures a long and very colourful display and this year, with favourable weather conditions, the show should be spectacular.”It’s not only trees that may offer spectacular colour this autumn – berries in hedgerows and colour in gardens are also doing well.

Simon added: “Fruit and berries offer an additional display and our native hedgerow shrubs provide a riot of colour. One of my favourites is spindle with its bright pink fruits with orange seeds, once used to treat head lice. Most people recognise blackthorn by its welcome spring flowers but in the autumn it’s the bloomy blue sloes that draw attention.

“Many of our common garden plants like cotoneaster, dogwoods and mahonia are also at their best in autumn. With the evenings already drawing in and with the potential of further localised lockdowns due to the coronavirus, it’s more important than ever that we take the time to notice nature and to drink in the colourful landscapes that we can see at this time of year.

“Together with the particular dusky, heavy scent of autumn and the sounds of crisp leaves crunching underfoot, will all serve to help our wellbeing through the next few colder, darker months.”

Visit for more information on places to visit for autumn colour or to support the National Trust’s Everyone Needs Nature campaign, where donations will go towards nature projects to include planting an additional 20 million trees.