Peter Harvey: The Lighter Side of Life

THERE aren't as many acorns about this year.

Monday, 15th October 2007, 1:46 pm
Updated Wednesday, 24th October 2007, 8:49 am

Apparently the peculiar weather we have had – hotter than the south of France in April, wetter than the Amazon rain forest in summer, and so on – has confused the oak trees so much that they haven't produced the usual number of acorns.

I take no credit for having noticed this phenomenon. I read about it in some very interesting nature notes I came across in a newspaper that I happened to be reading the other day. The column was packed with fascinating information.

Not only did it inform me about acorns being in short supply, it told me what effect this was having on jays, those lively, often-noisy, brightly-coloured birds that appear sometimes in our back garden. Because of the shortage, the jays are having a thin time of it.

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And no wonder. According to the gentleman who wrote the notes, every jay in this country is estimated to collect and bury up to 5,000 acorns every autumn. In other words, all the jays in Britian and Ireland bury something like 1,700 million acorns every year.

Then they dig them up over winter to sustain their food supply. Somewhat surprisingly – to me at least – they usually remember where they have buried them.

This fills me with admiration for the average jay because I can't usually remember where I put the TV remote control ten minutes earlier.

I'd have no chance recalling where I buried 5,000 acorns a month or two ago.

However, the beauty of the jay's burying arrangements is that if it forgets where one or two of its acorns are buried it doesn't matter very much because, tucked away in some soil, they are likely to grow into oak trees which will then produce yet more acorns.

Isn't nature marvellous?

I like acorns. I like the little cups they grow in, and the beautiful shiny shells they develop. I still don't understand why the fashion gurus never pronounced one year that the fashionable colour for the coming season would be acorn. It's such a lovely colour.

That said, acorns never seemed to me to have any outstanding practical use.

You couldn't eat them, like peanuts, they didn't roast, like chestnuts, you couldn't play games with them as you could with conkers, you couldn't really paint them and make them into Christmas decorations.

Some people say that it is just about possible to use them for the making of a kind of coffee but I never knew anybody who did this, and I certainly never met anybody foolhardy enough to have tried drinking the stuff.

I am delighterd to discover, somewhat late in life, that all those millions of acorns are serving a worthy and admirable purpose keeping all our jays fit and well.

If this year's shortage means that the jays will be on restricted rations I shall just have to try to put something else out for them to eat this winter.

What do you think? Post your comments below.