The UK is experiencing the earliest signs of autumn in 20 years, prompted by last week’s record-breaking heatwave, and the driest July since 1911.
Leaves in some parts of the country are already starting to change colour and drop from trees while berries are ripening weeks ahead of schedule as extreme temperatures and a lack of rain have taken their toll.
Autumn does not officially start until September 1 but heatwaves, such as the one in 2003, can give the impression of a change of season.
“The record-breaking heat we have just experienced has helped bring on a number of early autumn events,” said Fritha West from the Woodland Trust.
“We have received some of our earliest ever ripe blackberry records from the south of England.
“Hawthorn and rowan are ripening early in some [areas], where early leaf tinting has also been observed. Elder and holly have been recorded as fruiting earlier too.
“Extreme temperatures and a lack of water can cause trees to drop their leaves earlier than we’d expect.”
Gardeners have also reported already seeing brown leaves dropping from trees.
Just 15.8mm of rain had fallen in July by Wednesday – 24 per cent of the average rainfall for the month, according to Met Office data, and the lowest since 1911, when it reached just 13.4mm. That year saw a drought with food shortages and water cut off in some areas.
Figures also show England has had the driest eight-month period from November 2021 to June 2022 since 1976, when the country struggled with severe drought.
Over that period, just 421mm (16.6in) of rain has fallen across England – less than three-quarters (74%) of the 1991-2020 average of 568mm (22.4in).
Mark McCarthy, head of the Met Office National Climate Information Centre, said: “It is not just July that has been dry.
“Since the start of the year, all months apart from February have been drier than average in the UK too.
“The result of this is that the winter, spring and summer of 2022 have all seen less than the UK average seasonal rainfall.
“England has seen the lowest levels during these periods and rainfall totals for the first six months of the year are around 25% below their long-term average, with the driest regions in the east and south-east.”