In the UK, heat and drought are causing ‘false autumn’

Instead of a vibrant green, many gardens, parks, and forests hue from yellow to brown. Leaves pile up at the feet of trees. The UK has entered a “fake autumn” after a hot, dry summer.

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The effect of nearly a year of historically low rainfall, exacerbated by a record-breaking July, has been astounding on the streets of England, including the streets of London awash with dead leaves in mid-August.

“Because of the heat wave, we are experiencing what is called ‘false autumn’. Leaves change color and fall to the ground prematurely as trees go into survival mode due to drought,” Horniman Museum and Gardens, a museum and park located in south London.

This early decline is due to trees shedding leaves in an attempt to retain moisture.

If older trees with deep roots can withstand this loop, the younger ones are more vulnerable.

“The trees secrete hormones that they use in the fall to fall back and ensure their survival,” explained Rosie Walker, of the Woodland Trust charity. “They will continue like this for a few years, but it will start to affect our trees if we are not very careful,” she told the BBC.

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Temperatures topped 40 degrees for the first time in the UK in July, the driest month on record in many parts of southern and eastern England. Prior to that, winter and spring had the lowest rainfall since the 1976 drought.

Animals “unprepared”

The situation, which has been attributed to climate change, has prompted authorities to ban the use of garden hoses to provide water in some areas.

Like most of the capital’s parks, in Kensington Park, which together with Hyde Park forms one of London’s great “green lungs”, dead leaves sway under the feet of tourists, while geese, ducks and other birds peck on the grass resembling a worn mop.

In the orchards, fruit appeared earlier than expected, like cranberries, and is usually ready to eat in the fall, but some were already ripe by the end of June, the Woodland Trust reports.

Other berries and nuts have ripened prematurely and are thus at risk of being depleted early, leaving some animals like Blossom without sufficient stores this fall.

“The climate crisis is bringing with it seasonal weather patterns that our wildlife is not adapting to,” said Steve Hussey, of the Devon Wildlife Trust in southwest England.

“Our long, hot summer and false autumn will affect many species in the true autumn months and beyond,” he warned.

For his part, Lee Hunt, a consultant to the Royal Horticultural Society, noted that a similar situation occurred during long periods of drought in 2006-2007 and before the Covid-19 pandemic.

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“It’s been particularly intense this year,” he told Radio Times on Wednesday. “But what I’ve noticed is that these events seem to happen more frequently.”

“It’s in line with climate change: hotter, drier summers, more variable rainfall,” Lee noted.

“It’s happening much faster than in previous generations,” he added, predicting that these weather conditions will eventually change the UK’s landscape, from parks to gardens to woodlands.

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