Schools across Northern Ireland have reopened their doors, but a traditional childhood favourite – the conker – is missing from the trees.

The Woodland Trust claims the sizzling summer heatwave and prolonged drought has caused a delay, right across the UK, to this popular first sign of autumn.

According to the Trust’s Nature’s Calendar project, in 2017 the first sighting of a ripe conker was, unsurprisingly, in the south west of England – Somerset on 7 July, to be precise.  But this year the first sighting was almost six weeks later – this time in Wiltshire on 18 August.

In Northern Ireland, while there have been some sightings of aspiring conkers – the familiar spiny green husks hiding in the branches – no records of ripe conkers have been received.  They’re easy to spot as the horse chestnut will drop the conkers to the ground naturally when they are ripe.

By recording natural seasonal sings – that’s the first signs of spring and autumn – members of the public are helping to show how climate change is affecting UK plants and wildlife.

The charity is appealing for more people across Northern Ireland to take part in its online project, as records here are relatively scarce.

Martha Boalch, citizen science officer for the Woodland Trust, says: “We’d really love local people to take part in Nature’s Calendar, so that we can get an accurate picture of how the seasons unfold right across the UK.  And keeping your eyes peeled for conkers is a great place to start.  I’m sure the kids will agree!

“This year’s unusual weather, with a prolonged lack of water, could have delayed the horse chestnut trees producing their fruit and could stop them from growing to their full potential.

“Although we’ve only had a small number of conkers recorded so far, all is not lost for our favourite sign of autumn!  Over the next month we would expect more fruit to ripen, but only time will tell whether it will be a plentiful, or disappointing, crop.”

To find out more about Nature’s Calendar and to become a recorder, visit naturescalendar.woodlandtrust.org.uk

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