RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Nature’s bounty provides a feast for the wildlife

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A bullet hit the car. For a split second I was on the road from Famagusta with EOKA taking potshots at us. It was only an acorn, but it made me jump.

Soon we got used to these 60mph missiles as we travelled back from Devon.

At least they did not make holes in the vehicle. Lovely autumn bullets, fit for pigs and pigeons, jays, pheasants, squirrels, voles and yellow-necked mice.

Does a huge berry crop mean a hard winter is coming? Ask me next March and I’ll tell you.

This year the blackberries were so thick on the stems, they shrivelled. There were too many to eat. Elderberries dried on the branch like currants.

Birds were glutted by this autumn bacchanalia. They deserted my bird table for the rosehips in the hedges and the thistle seeds in the fields. Apples have snapped the bough.

Ash trees seem to have bunches of bananas. I foraged the hedgerows for sloes. These look like mini grapes with their grey-blue bloom like the smoke from an old wood fire.

I tasted one and it was not all that sour. The flesh had ripened inside like an apricot.

They will make turgid wine, with a heavy and sullen deposit on the bottom until all clears next year to a glowing ember-red.

I tasted a hawthorn berry as well.

We used to eat a few when we were children because the old folk in the village who had starved in the Great War said the berries were like cheese rind.

Given an east wind and all the redwings and fieldfares, blackbirds and thrushes will come into England from the Baltic countries and feast on them, especially the redwings. Fieldfares will move quickly on to cattle pastures to dig out the worms and grubs.

Yew trees have made another good crop of berries as well. These look like Chinese lanterns, and are sweet to taste. The badgers and foxes have already found them and I have seen the end result in the droppings.

Badgers fill their so-called soil pits with masses of pips they cannot digest. Just as well since these pips are deadly poisonous inside.

Hazel nuts are white as milk inside their shells before they ripen.

But with the shell they are like the solid ball from a musket if they hit your windscreen.

WH Hudson records a century ago, how the itinerant farm workers moving on from harvest to hedging work would spend a few days in the woods feasting on hazel nuts.

There was not a lot else to eat. If there were sweet chestnuts then they were lucky, for these usually produce fruit, unlike the acorn crop which can be only every seven years.

The effect of all this panage will be, next year, an increase in wood mice and voles.

There were swarms in the mid ’90s. But there will also be numbers of oak seedlings filling in some of the bare patches in our landscape hedgerows, hopefully.