‘Second spring’ as UK experiences record above-average temperatures | UK weather

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Among the yellow and brown clumps of fallen leaves and the skeletal frames of deciduous trees this fall are some surprising finds: green shoots and bright flowers.

The recent mild temperatures and wet conditions have encouraged some plants that should go dormant for winter to burst back into life, experts have said, with possible disruptive effects on nature’s cycles.

The apparent second spring has come after Britain recorded an unprecedented 10 months above average temperaturesafter a record summer heat wave.

“The recent mild conditions and abundant rain will have encouraged horrendous plant growth,” said John David, head of horticultural taxonomy at the Royal Horticultural Society.

He added: “This summer caused a number of plants, shrubs and trees to lose their leaves or die down to survive the heat and drought. It was remarkable that when the rains returned in September, a number of plants grew new leaves that normally would not do so at this time of year, and some also re-bloomed.”

David said the autumn so far had been “unusually mild” and RHS Garden Wisley in Woking, Surrey, had still not had an air frost.

“The mild weather looks set to continue as we experience a series of deep low pressure systems coming across the Atlantic bringing warm, moist air,” he said.

Trees with leaves photographed in St James's Park in central London on November 22.
Many trees have lost their leaves of late, such as these photographed in St James’s Park, London, on November 22. Photo: Steve Taylor/Sopa Images/Rex/Shutterstock

The north of England has also had unseasonal weather, with a gardener at a National Trust property there reporting fuchsias and dahlias blooming into October. Since then, a frost had “set things back”, he said.

“We definitely noticed it a lot mild weather around October, and it kept prolonging things,” he added. “It can be problematic if you don’t have a proper rest period at some point over the winter.”

Powis Castle and Garden, near Welshpool, in Wales, said its strawberry tree, I unite the trees – one of the largest and oldest in the country – had produced twice as much fruit this year, the first time the gardening team had seen such an increase.

Ned Lomax, head gardener at Bodnant Garden in Conwy, said: “We have a few plants flowering out of season, mostly rhododendrons but a few other things too. Some plants are actively growing or flowering now in response to the mild and wet weather after the long, dry summer when growth was not possible due to the harsh conditions.”

Gardener Alys Fowler said many plants “had a second go” at flowering. “I have a thorn in my yard that does just that,” she said. “And roses will often throw out a flower or two in the winter if the weather is mild. A lot of plants are opportunists—if the temperature is right and the day length is right … they get a chance. I think there’s an evolutionary advantage to it. Are we seeing more of it because of climate change? Yes, for sure.”

Plants with the genetic predisposition to take advantage of current climatic conditions did so, Fowler said. But plants that depended on colder temperatures could sufferand there would be knock-on effects along the ecosystem.

“If you’re a pollinator with an evolutionary dependence on certain plants or temperatures being predictable at a certain time, then warm autumns are problematic,” Fowler said. “You don’t go to sleep at the right time, or you wake up too early without anything to eat. Like all the peacock butterflies right now.”

The UK will get more rain in the coming days, Met Office forecasters say, with temperatures expected to drop closer to the usual average, so the second spring may not last. But its effects can be far-reaching.

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