And so, just like that, the autumn equinox is upon us. Next Wednesday, 22nd September at 7.21pm if you want to be precise. Although I expect that's at Greenwich, and in fact the Royal Museums at Greenwich have a great article about the equinox, including a description of the three different ways of defining autumn: meteorological (which we talked about at the start of the month), astronomical
(the equinox signalling the start of the season) and phenological. Although I have talked about phenology before, and search for natural signs (the first daffodil, the first ripe conker!) I have never really considered that this could be an official way of defining the seasons. However, of course this is one of the ways that we are able to track the changing climate, and it's something that all of us can get involved in. Nearly a year ago now we made a video about how to become a nature detective with The Woodland Trust's Nature Detective project, which you can watch here. Reading a recent Woodland Trust blog, I was surprised to discover that autumn is known as the "neglected season" because of a relative lack of records. Is everyone not recording when they collect their first ripe conker? Apparently not! Autumn ends, in phenological terms, when the final leaves fall, signalling a ‘bare tree event’. From my own very unscientific observations, having tried to collect some leaves last week, I'd say this is a long time off, and according to the records, usually happens sometime in November although again, this is changing with the weather. I did collect some very beautiful sweet chestnut leaves at the weekend, that were so golden and perfect to be irresistible.
If you want to celebrate this change in the year, then I recommend checking out The Resurgence Trust's autumn equinox online gathering, as a place to start winding down towards hibernation.
This week I attended a webinar where Living Streets Scotland launched their latest study Our Streets Too examining the role of walking infrastructure in healthy ageing, transport and climate action in Scotland. The thing that struck me most from the event is that on average, a Border Collie can run over 80km in a day whereas a hedgehog on his travels, walks between 3-4km per night. I'm afraid I've lost the precise figure, but a terrifying number of us, especially older people (that's people over 65 years), are walking less than a hedgehog. 38% of them are active for less than 30 minutes per week. However walking becomes ever more important as we get older, as well as increasing fitness and strengthening muscles, walking offers a wonderful opportunity for social interaction too.
Autumn was an opportune time to launch this report too, pavements that have been mainly clear all summer are already covered with leaves in some places, and the squirrels, even more keen on collecting conkers than me, are spreading conker detritus far and wide, making pavements more dangerous places underfoot, and that's before you mention cars. In the introduction to the document, Lee Craigie, the Active Nation Commissioner for Scotland writes:
Currently, it can feel subversive to choose to walk instead of drive places. Safe, shared, green spaces for everyone, and the time and permission to enjoy them, have been neglected in favour of roads and parking for many years. We must act now to reshape our communities in ways that support our ageing population and our future selves to feel connected, safe, confident, and joyful.
Perhaps this is why I like to walk, an easy way to feel subversive, but actually we want walking to be as un-subversive (superversive?) as possible. That's one of the calls to action from this report. Let's make popping to the shops (on foot) great again! Of course it's not quite that simple, the infrastructure needs to be there to support this, good footpaths, clear footpaths, quality lighting and accessible benches for starters. If you're worried about getting out for a walk on your own, then Get Walking Lanarkshire can help. Check out their timetable of walks to find one near you; you'll be joining a friendly bunch of people on a well trodden and safe path.
Of course, walking is good for the earth too. Every trip we make on foot instead of taking the car, contributes to cleaner air by reducing carbon and particulate air pollution, which is something to remember this Climate Week. Perhaps you could commit to walking (or wheeling or cycling) more often and help us hit the Scottish Government target of reducing car kilometres by 20% by 2030. While you're out there, you might want to see what signs of autumn you notice along the way. Finally, if you're not able to get out and would still like to connect to nature, you can! A new piece of research has shown that an online brief mindful nature-connectedness intervention (put simply, a short meditation that includes the sounds of nature) is effective in bringing about significant increases in nature connectedness and lowering paranoia; find some time and a quiet space and can enjoy this meditation here.