Berries festoon the quarry reserve

The incoming polar air mass and clear night sky produces this year’s heaviest frost. Water crystallises into bristly masses on every surface. The blazing morning sun rapidly scorches most of it away, but in the deepest still hollows of Ketton quarry the thick, white, dusting endures into the afternoon.

Most of the big trees have shed their leaves, but the prolonged autumn kaleidoscope continues with golden yellow birches and guelder rose bushes bedecked with angular coral-pink leaves and drooping bunches of semi-translucent scarlet berries.

The hazel is still clothed in green and, given that the arctic is now at an unprecedented 20C above its November average, will there be sufficient bite and force in the air to strip the leaves, or, like last year, will we see hazel moving straight from autumn to spring?

Buff limestone has been quarried from Ketton, in Rutland, for hundreds of years and was used to build many of the older Cambridge University colleges. Active quarries supply building stone and raw materials for the Portland cement which is made in the jumble of cream-coloured industrial buildings and chimneys that are separated from Ketton quarry nature reserve by two vast fields of panels, a solar farm that was opened by Amber Rudd, in 2015, when she was energy and climate change secretary.

Buckthorn berries

Buckthorn berries. Photograph: Matt Shardlow

The nature reserve is a mixture of convoluted calcareous grassland on the oldest quarry areas and planted beech woodland. Lime-loving species abound; hefty and spiky fronds of woolly thistle and papery husks of carline thistle are easy to find.

Most remarkable however is the cornucopia of berries. Withered stems of white bryony lash together clumps of little red globes hanging in garlands from bushes and fences; hedges and wood edges blush with haws; here little black privet berries; there rose hips.

More tree than bush, a huge female buckthorn is festooned with pea sized black fruit. A few lime coloured leaves hang on, oval, fine saw edges and curved veins that converge towards the pointed tip. In spring the more notorious brimstone butterflies will emerge, seek out this buckthorn and lay eggs on its new foliage.

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