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Volunteers wanted for leaf fall research

posted on October 22, 2015

‘Leaves on the line’ are a common rail problem during the autumn period in the UK. Fallen leaves each year from September to December create mulch like substances on the rail line making the rail head slippery. This slippery rail reduces adhesion between the track and the train wheel. The lower adhesion causes delays, trains to slip and not stop at stations which often results in changes to the usual timetable.

University of Birmingham PhD student Jennifer Kirby looking at the autumn leaf fall problem around the UK rail network.

University of Birmingham PhD student Jennifer Kirby looking at the autumn leaf fall problem around the UK rail network.

A PhD project, at the University of Birmingham, is investigating alternative ways of measuring leaf fall which could help reduce delays in the autumn period. In order to do this a team of volunteers is needed to measure leaf fall around the country. This will help to gain a greater understanding of when different tree species fall across the UK.

Jennifer is therefore looking for volunteers who can spare 10 minutes, 3 days a week, to make observations about leaf fall in a local woodland area. These observations don’t need to be near a rail line.

Volunteers will be sent an observation sheet. This is an Excel document that you can fill in with your observations. If you are interested in improving rail safety and taking a walk around local woodland areas then please help and get involved.

If you are interested in volunteering or have any further questions about the project please get in contact with Jennifer (email: JXK067@bham.ac.uk).


  1. I suggest you contact ADAS who already do an annual autumn leaf fall survey for the Met Office. Try Lauren at Lauren.Fieldsend@adas.co.uk – you can say you received from myself via Sylva Foundation

    Comment by Richard Bellamy — October 23, 2015 @ 11:29 am

  2. Hi Sylva,
    Do you have networks in Africa especially in Kenya. You are doing amazing work.I’m environmental enthusiasm and a practitioner. I will be glad to work with you.

    Thank you.


    Comment by George Odhiambo — November 6, 2015 @ 6:12 am

  3. I have only today received this by email from the Tree Council and it is really too late to be useful. As I have a lot of different trees in my garden or nearby I know from removing them how long a period the have been falling.
    The first were from an Italian Popular and a Cercidyphillum early October and next were from a Liriodendron and some Beech Trees which continued until the end of October/ beginning of November. Leaves fron Oak trees and field maples have been falling for the last 2 weeks are are still falling. Some oaks will need another 2 weeks depending on the weather. We have a oriental maple that is usually last to lose its leaves but probably by the end of November.

    Comment by Alan Colgate — November 10, 2015 @ 1:37 pm

  4. Dear Alan Colgate, Thank you for the comment, it is useful to get a picture of which species have already fallen and what remains. If you are still interested it is not too late as I am trying to get a picture of how oak species are doing as well, which hopefully will last into December. Also if you drop me an email on JXK067@bham.ac.uk, we could discuss the potential for volunteering next Autumn.

    Sadly George Odhiambo, I haven’t yet expanded my research out of the UK. Thank you though for the offer and hopefully in the future we could look into different areas of the world. I am glad to read your enthusiastic attitude the project and thank you for the comment.

    Comment by Jennifer Kirby — November 12, 2015 @ 11:37 am

  5. Dear Alan Colgate. For many years I have noticed that, by some weeks, the last species to loose its leaves is Liqidambar – indeed mine still holds some leaves today. You might find it interesting to check whether your ‘oriental maple’ displays opposite or alternate buds. If ‘alternate’ you may be assured that your beautiful tree is, in fact, a Liquidambar.

    Comment by Bill Acworth — December 19, 2015 @ 6:50 pm

  6. Sorry Alan. For ‘loose’ read LOSE’!

    Comment by Bill Acworth — December 19, 2015 @ 6:54 pm

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