What a summer, heat wave, drought, possible hose pipe bans, hottest on record, the headlines said it all. Now outside the door a gale is raging through the trees. Where once I couldn’t see my neighbours house now the falling leaves reveal it once again.
Autumn on the land is a season we all know well; the leaves turn as unwanted chemicals are pumped into them and the chlorophyll is taken back into the tree. The ultimate recycling scheme, one we would do well to adopt. The birds change, finches gather in flocks, tits and tree creepers join forces and roam the woods, hunting our empty bird tables reminding us to go and buy seeds and nuts. But what about the sea, other than the crashing waves thrilling the more advanced surfers, just what happens?
Many of our rocky shore creatures move away from the shallows in the autumn, the coming storms are too strong for them. Crabs that have moulted and mated especially the big spiders move back to the calmer depths. Sea weeds die back, many are annuals, they complete their life in a single year. Others such as the thong weed, cast off the long reproductive blades and exist as buttons on the rock over winter. The blenny stays in his pools, the shore crab finds a safe spot but might not venture far, the anemones brave it out. Limpets do what they always do, grip the rock and hope for the best.
One fragile creature you would not expect to stay is the Celtic sea slug, this little black blob that has probably ventured only a few feet over the year now slowly moves into its favourite crevice and slows down to a torpor. Here it will semi-hibernate until some trigger prompts it to venture out again.
The winter storms can be spectacular, cliffs are battered, and rocks fall, landslides into the sea, beaches are washed away overnight and human structures are tested fully. So, imagine you are a 2cm long blob of jelly with tentacles clinging to a seaweed in the pounding waves. The stalked jellies increase in the winter, unbelievable, it really is insignificant and sits in the full force of the waves, how?
So as the strandline brings in the inevitable dead remains of gannets and other unfortunates, and you hold onto the kids to stop them blowing away, think of these special little creatures, hard to find, beautiful to see, totally baffling to understand. Autumn is here, be safe on the beach, take a bag and help collect the inevitable rubbish the sea now spits back out until we learn to recycle as efficiently as those soon to be bare trees.