Summer heatwave means bumper crop of conkers

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THE summer heatwave has resulted in a bumper crop of autumn conkers across the region.

Experts say Edinburgh’s army of horse chestnut trees are currently shedding an unusually large number of spiky green seeds.

Lilly and Daisy Martineau gather conkers at the Botanic Garden. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Lilly and Daisy Martineau gather conkers at the Botanic Garden. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

This summer’s prolonged hot spell is being cited as the cause of the thick carpeting of conkers

And – while the bumper harvest is providing a windfall for wildlife – it’s also fuelling a mini revival of the classic schoolyard game.

Indeed the bumper harvest has come as something of a relief to the organisers of this year’s Scottish Conker Championships – who were forced to cancel their popular event last year due to a distinct lack of nuts.

Already this autumn large numbers of children (and adults) have been seen amassing conker warchests in the grounds of the Royal Botanic Garden according to Arboretum manager, Martyn ­Dickson.

He said: “There are lots around. A lot more than last year’s harvest. The horse chestnut originally comes from the Baltic region where there are far warmer temperatures so the harvest is often dependent on consistently high temperatures.

“Last year was poor in terms of trees building up their energy and this summer’s warm weather will have helped them a great deal. We’ve been seeing a lot more people, both young and old, coming and collecting them in the evenings and on the weekends.”

Now it is back in vogue, conker collecting – which stops cyclists and joggers from sliding on the slippy spheres is supported by the Campaign For Real Conkers.

Its spokesman Keith Flett, 56, who is based in Edinburgh, is delighted with this year’s bonkers conker crop.

He said: “Hopefully more kids will go out and have a go at the game as it’s great fun and more importantly it’s free. Last year was a bad year but there’s absolutely loads of them about just now.”

Mr Flett said the traditional game has been placed under threat after being banned from some school playgrounds on safety grounds several years ago.

He added: “There is a need to promote conker playing among young people now and we think there is an onus on schools to promote playground conker games and make it clear that the brief period of bans has ended.”

The annual Scottish Conker Championships takes place in Peebles this Saturday and the organiser, Borders Forest Trust, is expecting a good ­turnout.

A spokeswoman said: “Each year we get a lot of players from Edinburgh... It’s a good opportunity for people to test their Edinburgh nuts against ones from the Borders.”

Swinging’s the only game in town

According to the Campaign for Real Conkers the five steps to the perfect match-ready conker are:

Choose carefully. Reject conkers with scuffs or cracks. Look for a conker that has a hard consistency all over, not too big and not too small.

• If you want to enhance or harden a conker, baking it in an oven or soaking it in vinegar are traditional methods.

• Carefully make a hole in the centre of the conker with a sharp implement. At this stage you may need to discard your conker if it splinters.

• Thread the conker, preferably with string or twine, and double knot it to avoid it slipping off.

• Make sure your string length is right for your arm with a few practice swings.