Leaf-peeping, the pastime of enjoying autumn foliage brings in one billion dollars each year to New England. Whilst the US state may lead the way in this tourism trade, Forestry Commission England has many worthy competitors, including the National Pinetum at Bedgebury, where the world’s best conifer collection provides an ideal green backdrop for the many splashes of vivid autumn colour.

But why do leaves change colour? What makes a maple leaf turn fiery red, a beech become golden or an ironwood transform through a rainbow of colours to deep plum purple?

Chris Reynolds, Curator of Bedgebury Pinetum, explains the science behind changing leaf colour:

“Different chemicals in leaves control the colours we see. During summer the leaves are packed with green chlorophyll, which harnesses energy from sunlight to combine water and CO2 to create sugars (plant food).

“However, once the tree shuts down as it prepares for winter, the chlorophyll breaks down and other coloured chemicals take over. Carotenoids (which give carrots their colour), anthocyanins and tannins give the instantly recognisable colours of autumn, making leaves appear yellow, red and gold.

“Because of the less than glorious summer we have experienced this year, we expect to see prolonged autumn colour well into November due to the mild, damp weather conditions and no shortage of water.”

This year everyone can follow how quickly our woodlands are changing colour and help us keep this up to date. Using the Forestry Commission’s interactive online autumn colour map it’s easy to find the best colour near you, as each wood is rated from green to golden. www.forestry.gov.uk/autumn

Picture perfect

Woodlands are a magnet for enthusiastic photographers during autumn, so here are the Forestry Commission’s top tips on how to get the most out of autumn colour.

1. Autumn provides a real opportunity for photographers, as the trees in brightly coloured autumnal leaf provide the most vivid of images. A great time to start a new hobby!
2. Use photography to gain insight into different types of woodlands – from native to conifer plantations. Great fun and a great way to learn.
3. In more formal gardens such as Bedgebury Pinetum, think about how deliberately the landscape has been designed. Photography can reveal an intentional pace and a story to the planting.
4. Look out for contrasts in colours and textures which provide many a striking image – the deep red of a Japanese maple with a backdrop of dense, dark yew or laurel, or ferns nestling against tree bark.
5. Seek out intricacy and aim to come away with a wide variety of images, from close-ups of maple leaves, to dramatic landscapes of golden oaks and beeches.

Why not share your autumn photos by posting them on the Forestry Commission Woods and Forests Facebook page, or the Forestry Commission’s Flickr group? You can find your local Forestry Commission woodland this autumn by visiting www.forestry.gov.uk/autumn.

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