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Last Updated: Monday, 8 October 2007, 11:46 GMT 12:46 UK
Kew timelapse month by month
By Pia Harold
BBC News

Rain on the lens at Kew

A timelapse camera fixed high up in the Pagoda at the UK's famous Kew Gardens has been recording the changing seasons.

It takes a digital image of the same spot every five minutes, and then these pictures are stitched together to form a short video.

The set-up is being used to mark what the Met Office had predicted would be the warmest ever recorded. Thus far, 2007 has proved to be full of extremes.

Here is what it has looked like so far, starting with the most recent month:


Autumn leaves
The video below clearly shows the changing colours

The autumn leaves produced spectacular colours this year.

Annette Dalton, a horticultural manager at Kew, suggested they were so striking because some very cold nights were followed by crisp, bright, sunny mornings.

"That really helps the sugars to break down quickly in the leaves. So I imagine it's a combination of that, and we didn't have much wind. Usually you get lots of wind and the leaves are gone.

"Also, we had a very wet summer. In 2006 we had a very dry summer so some trees lost their leaves to be economical with water."


Harlequin ladybird
The harlequin ladybird (Harmonia axyridis) can be many different colours

This is the time when ladybirds go into hibernation, but staff at Kew Gardens noticed a change this year.

Clinging to trees and windows, looking for a place to rest, huge numbers of exotic harlequin ladybirds easily outnumbered the native species.

"It's now by far and away the commonest ladybird at Kew, as it is probably elsewhere in the south east", said Sandra Bell, a lead researcher at Kew Gardens.

"It's very big compared with our native ladybirds and it's a voracious feeder. The larvae are the main heavy feeders and they eat mainly aphids, but the fear is that when the aphids run out they feed on all sorts of other things - including the native ladybirds.

"The harlequin ladybird can only survive here because of climate change. It's native to Asia, and scientists breeding it as a control for agricultural pests released it in the southern US and southern Europe.

"It spread right the way across Europe to Belgium under its own steam. And in the autumn of 2004 it was observed to be amassing in very large numbers on the coast of Belgium, so it clearly flew over."


Nerine bowdenii - Picture courtesy of Kew Gardens
The Nerine bowdenii normally flowers in mid-September

The weather this month was more typical for the time of year.

Sandra Bell said that "in lots of ways it was a very remarkable summer, but it's placing us where we want to be as we go into winter."

"We don't monitor many autumn-flowering species but there are two that we do - the Crocus speciosus and the Nerine bowdenii.

"When they opened in September it was exactly in the middle of their average flowering time for the past 10 years.

"So despite the rather chaotic weather over the last year really, these two particular flowering bulbs are flowering exactly when you'd expect them to."


Red admiral (Pic: Martin Scott, RSPB Scotland)
Workers at Kew Gardens missed the red admiral

There were winners and losers from another month of mainly grey weather.

After many summers of hot dry weather, the trees had a chance to recover. But Sandra Bell said butterflies had suffered.

"Generally in August you get quite a lot of migratory butterflies - such as the red admiral and the clouded yellow. But they have been low in number this year compared with previous years.

"We haven't seen a single clouded yellow at Kew. They fly across from the continent. Under normal summer conditions, they have to tackle 25 miles of sea.

"With the wind from the south west which helps them, it's amazing enough; but with the wind from the north, it's much harder for them to make it, almost impossible."


Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire
Flooding killed three people in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire

Another month of heavy rain brought tragedy and despair.

Gloucestershire was hardest hit - at least three people died and thousands of homes had no running water after a treatment works was submerged.

Kew Gardens was spared such horrors, but it was very wet for the time of year.

Climate change scientists believe that extremes of weather will become more common; and Sandra Bell thinks plant life cycles are being greatly affected.

"Almost all the flowers we've been studying are flowering substantially earlier than they did less than 30 years ago. That's a change that we firmly believe is due to climate change."


Olives growing at Kew Gardens
Olive trees have been cultivated since ancient times and can live hundreds of years

At least four people died when torrential rain caused flooding in much of the UK.

Parts of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire were among those struck by extreme flooding.

Londoners were also deluged, but without such serious consequences.

Kew Gardens held its Mediterranean Year Festival, and replanted the gardens according to a changing climate.

The organisation said it included species that could not have thrived in the UK 50 years ago.


The timelapse camera
The camera is fixed high up on the Pagoda's fourth floor

It was hardly picnic weather for much of May.

Hopes of an early summer were dashed with the arrival of heavy rain at the end of the month.

Raincoats and umbrellas were brought back out of the cupboards.

And the British straightened their stiff upper lips after what had been a rather lovely April.


Children playing on beach
Children playing on Folkestone beach in April

This month had shown some signs the Met Office's predictions might come true.

City-dwellers enjoyed the sunshine, basking in parks.

And while children played in the surf, gardeners missed the rain.

The average temperature was 10.2C (50.4F), beating the previous April high of 9.2C (48.6F), recorded in 1943.


This daffodil in Wales flowered in December 2006

In the early 1960s daffodils (Narcissus pseudonarcissus) in Kew's Woodland Garden were only thought to begin flowering in March.

But researchers at Kew Gardens have found that that has advanced by about 10 days per decade.

This year the first one opened on 23rd January.


Snow in February, as seen from the Pagoda

The camera point in the Pagoda has only failed a couple of times - and one of those times was when the snow came down.

"We recovered it that day and got the snow melting away, but it was a real disappointment," said BBC location engineer Alan Murdey.

He thought it could have failed because of power outages - although he had set up a back-up supply which was meant to kick in if there was a cut.


Snowdrops are always among the first bulbs to flower

On 25 January the first snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) opened under the hornbeams in the Queen's Garden.

During the 1950s snowdrops opened on average at around 25 February, according to Kew's records.

But the average since 2000 has been 30 January, meaning that flowering has advanced by 26 days.

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