Caught by the River

Free Range: Acorn Collecting

Amy Liptrot | 8th November 2022

In a year of plentiful supply, Amy Liptrot and her children gather Calderdale acorns.

It’s a perfect autumn morning for small children, spent collecting acorns. Kids gather nuts and seeds instinctively but today we have a purpose, joining volunteers contributing to a tree planting project.

At Hardcastle Crags, a wooded valley of rocky outcrops and local legend, the oaks are mature and acorns abundant. It is a ‘mast year’ — trees producing a bumper crop of seeds, of beech nuts and acorns. My boys, aged 4 and 2, soon get their eyes in and are spotting acorns and popping them into our sack: the older one in handfuls, the toddler slowly, one-by-one. Small fingers handle tactile acorns from cream to chestnut to cocoa, some already sprouting. We discover the most plentiful places are at the top and bottoms of hills. We take care to leave plenty for squirrels and jays.

The acorns will be taken to a nursery where — after being put in water, and any acorns found floating shown to be bad and discarded — they will be nurtured for two or three years before being planted out at sites around West and North Yorkshire as part of the White Rose Forest project. 

The children become distracted, chasing each other with sticks, but us adults are committed and obsessed and find it hard to stop gathering the bounty.  This act of harvest is primal and satisfying and we reconvene with pleasingly heavy sacks. Our small group collects more than 19kg, roughly 5,000 acorns. 

The effort is coordinated by Slow the Flow Calderdale, who work on natural flood management including using volunteers to build leaky dams in this valley. Well-managed tree planting is a longterm strategy for reducing the type of flooding we have seen regularly here in Calderdale in recent years, notably the Boxing Day floods of 2015. 

By the time my children are grown some of the acorns they collected will also be grown, and helping to mitigate climate change — but right now they have dirty hands and shining faces and that is plenty.