Walking around Portrack Marsh on blustery but bright October morning, you can’t fail to notice the purple haze covering the marsh. At a time when few wildflowers are in bloom, this wonderful sight is down to a garden escape, Michaelmas daisy. A member of the aster family and so related to the very similar sea aster which once grew in the marsh in the days when it was connected to the sea as a saltmarsh, the Michaelmas daisy is particularly prevalent around the river in the Thornaby area and Portrack Marsh and Maze Park nature reserves are good places to enjoy the spectacle. The flowers provide nectar and pollen for insects looking to refuel before hibernation, such as red admiral butterflies and queen wasps. I’ve noticed a lot of red admirals around the Tees area this summer and they are increasingly able to survive our winters. Hopefully this year’s breeding success will be mirrored by lots of wonderful butterflies next spring.

Another vitally important nectar and pollen source at this time of the year is the humble ivy which also helps to keep birds going in the lean late winter months with its black berries. Again, bees, wasps, hoverflies and butterflies flock to its unassuming flowers to feast on the nectar bonanza and its evergreen foliage provides shelter for many species in the colder months as well as excellent nesting sites for a variety of birds in spring. Ivy really is a good all-rounder in terms of its wildlife value throughout the year so check it out on your walk along the river and see what a hive of activity it is.

I’ve also noticed that this year appears to have been an excellent year for berries and fruits with hedgerows all along the river laden with sloes (good for flavouring gin), haws, rosehips and brambles. With several containers worth of locally picked brambles in the freezer to keep me going, I’ll be enjoying a true taste of the Tees through the winter months!