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Autumn leaves fall in summer across the Thames
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Why loads and loads of trees are losing their leaves in August

Has the heatwave forced autumn to come early?

Written by
Ellie Muir

Wherever you live in the UK, you may have noticed how the streets are filling up with brown, crunchy leaves, just like they do in autumn. Except it’s currently August. Confusing, right?

Britain is suffering the worst drought since the 1970s, following a prolonged period of dry weather and two consecutive heatwaves. And now the prolonged dry weather is expected to last until October. And while grass turns to straw, and the ground to dusty mud, other plants have responded in a more unexpected way: shedding their leaves.

So, why exactly is this happening now? Has autumn really come early? Or are the leaves reacting badly to heat, just like us humans?

According to Stuart Thompson, a plant biochemistry lecturer at the University of Westminster, ‘it is an emergency response to protect the plant from dehydration’. During hot weather, plants often respond by closing the pores in their leaves to conserve water – and thus stop the process of evaporation. However, this can only last so long, as the leaves will use up the water and will need more to stay alive in the long run. Eventually, during a prolonged heatwave or drought, the leaves will drop off due to the lack of water supply. Hence the autumnal feel of our streets and parks right now.

So, while our trees aren’t getting their seasons muddled up, it seems such extreme weather poses serious consequences for the plant world. And it begs the question: will there be any leaves left to shed by the time actual autumn rolls around? 

ICYMI: this frightening interactive map shows the most polluted beaches in the UK.

Plus: the UK’s largest-ever kite festival is taking place in aid of Afghanistan this weekend.

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