Over the last few editions I have been focussing on the big picture politics. But let’s take a pause this week and reflect on autumn. A few days ago I sat watching a grey squirrel burying a hazel nut in the back garden. It gave me time to think about how nature has its rhythms of life, which continue irrespective of politics, financial crashes and global uncertainty.

Whilst it is certainly true to say that climate change is altering the patterns of hibernation and migration; most British species are still trying to follow the annual rhythm of spring, summer, autumn and winter. None more so that they grey squirrel.

This clever mammal is not a native of the UK; having been introduced from North America back in 1870. Part of their reason for their incredible success is their ability to adapt to cold and wet winters. During later summer and early autumn a typical squirrel will bury about 3,000 hazelnuts, beech nuts and acorns in our gardens. Before burying each nut, the squirrel will tap them and smell them to make sure they are the right type of nut! If the nuts are very healthy, the squirrels will often remove the embryo (growing points) of acorns before burying them, to stop them germinating. If the nuts are infested with weavils or other grubs; they will get eaten quickly rather than stored. That way the squirrel will ensure it has a healthy supply of nuts to last it through until the spring.

Grey squirrel are highly intelligent and will constantly watch for other species, which might be looking to see where the nuts have been buried. If it suspects that a mouse or hedgehog or even another squirrel has detected its food-it will dig it up and hide it somewhere else. Some studies have also suggested that squirrels will “fake bury”. Knowing they are being watched they will pretend to bury nuts in a hole and then scurry off to properly bury them somewhere else, whilst the watching animal digs up the soil to find nothing there!

The nuts can be buried in the middle of seemingly featureless landscapes courtesy of an amazing sense of smell and great spatial awareness. It is possible for a squirrel to bury a nut in the middle of a lawn and remember where it is 60 days later, to within a few centimetres. It then uses its keen sense of smell to do the rest.

As the climate changes squirrel are doing their best to adapt; but it is getting steadily harder for them with some trees altering the dates in which they produce nuts by between 3 and 5 weeks. The shorter winters are making a difference as well; with less need in some winters to recover their nut stashes. Ironically whilst climate change is having a very negative impact on some hibernating species such as hedgehog; the impact so far on grey squirrel has been limited and may in fact lead to a larger population-which will not be good news for our native red squirrel nor for farmers and foresters.

Whatever we may think of grey squirrel they are a truly amazing hardy survivor in a rapidly changing world and a reminder that nature is both clever and resilient.