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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 July, 2003, 09:15 GMT 10:15 UK
Scorchio! Is Britain the new Mediterranean?
It's been hot - and on Tuesday the mercury is expected to hit the warmest temperature of the year. Is this mini heatwave a taste of summers to come in the UK?

Scorchio, the Fast Show weather girl
Britons own more convertibles than other Europeans and the pavements are filling with alfresco cafe tables. Vineyards are cropping up across southern England, sales of barbecue equipment have soared, and butterflies native to southern Europe flutter as far north as Yorkshire.

While the climate is not (yet?) Mediterranean, there is a trend for warmer, wetter weather. Spring arrives earlier and autumn later, and summer seems to be getting steadily hotter.

Forecasters predict this will be the warmest summer since 1995, which was the best for 50 years bar the heat wave of 1976. Last month the UK basked in one of the hottest Junes on record, and July looks set to be record breaker.

Since the weekend, parts of the UK have topped the temperatures in Bermuda and the Balearics. Shepshed in Leicestershire reached 30.5C on Sunday, and London's top temperature of 29.3C was one degree hotter than Bali. On Monday, the hottest day of the year so far, the mercury hit 31C - warmer even than Miami's 29C.

CATALONIA IN EAST SUSSEX
Hastings photo courtesy of FreeFoto.com
Hastings, one of the most depressed towns in the South East, will be given a makeover
Centre to be rebuilt by the architects who regenerated Barcelona
The firm (MBM Arquitectes) has designed a Cardiff promenade
And London is to get European-style boulevards modelled on Las Ramblas

No longer need sun-seekers in search of a cheap flight pack a passport - budget airlines have added the surfers' paradise of Newquay and seaside resorts such as Bournemouth and Blackpool to their itineraries.

Winemakers are among those thankful for the changing climate - England now has 330 vineyards, which says as much about the weather as our changing taste in beverages.

Mike Roberts, of Ridgeview vineyard in East Sussex, says this year's vintage is set to be a corker. "It's partly due to increased professionalism in the UK wine industry, but in my 10 years as a winemaker I've noticed more tropical weather.

"We now have a semi-Continental climate, it's no longer maritime, and that's good for wine. Here on the South Downs, it's drier than a lot of the wine-growing areas in Australia."

But Mr Roberts doubts UK growers will harvest olives any time soon. "The weather is now similar to that in central France - you've got to get right down south as far as the Costa Brava for olives. And besides, the frost would probably kill them."

Flora and fauna

Yet other species native to warmer climes are pitching up on these shores. Butterflies from the Med have made it across the Channel. A French dragonfly, the red-veined darter, and the beewolf - a bee-eating wasp - are now resident as far north as Yorkshire, says Heather Wilkins, of English Nature.

Dotterel photo by RSPB Images, bee-eater by Andy Hay
Warmth doesn't suit dotterels (left) but does bee-eaters (RSPB photos)
A sunfish, usually found in the warmer Mediterranean sea, has been spotted off the southern coast, as have seahorses and seven-foot-long turtles.

As for birds, migrants have been establishing UK colonies since the 1970s, among them the little egret from Africa, the bee-eater from France, and the Italian Cetti's warbler.

"With climate change there are winners and losers. If winters get any milder, birds such as the snow bunting could be pushed out of their habitat in the Cairngorms," says Grahame Madge, of the RSPB. "Over time these Arctic birds will be left without a foothold in this country."

Insure against the weather

As Britons take to the habit of eating outside - and each local council seems to see cafe tables as a way to regenerate their streets - those in the food and drink industry are looking at the effect the weather has on their takings.

Some have started to take out insurance against bad weather, be it a City bar chain whose policy pays out if summer is a damp squib or a fun fair that insures against rain.

Man on phone in deckchair
Too hot to stay in the office?
Jim Dale, of independent meteorological company British Weather Systems, warns against getting too carried away with predictions of hot summers to come.

"Every summer has something like this that lasts a couple of days, that hovers around the 30C mark. So this is a taste of summers to come, and of summers past. Is it global warming? Well, it's a bit cyclical weather patterns and a bit the warming planet."

Such fluctuations are nothing new. From at least the 15th Century to the end of the 19th Century, the winters were cold enough to make the Thames freeze. And when the Normans invaded, it was warm enough for vineyards to flourish.

No wonder Britons find the weather a source of endless fascination.


Just how Mediterranean is the UK? Add your comments using the form below:

We've been sat outside drinking and eating for years, we just did it with hankies on our heads and a string vest.
Neil, London, UK

We have a south-facing garden in Cheshire and have built a patio in it. The house has white walls and on some days it is too hot to sit there. The only thing missing is the cicadas chirping away and the scorpions - but they have also arrived in southern England!
Richard Hough, UK

If the colony of parakeets that inhabits Kew Gardens and the skies above Richmond is anything to go by, London is more African then Med.
Jamie, London

I have fruiting olives in my garden in Birmingham grown from seed brought back from Crete.
Chris Cliffe, UK

We are just not Med enough. Do we slow the pace down in hot weather? No. Are we going to have siestas in the afternoon? Unlikely. Will our local boozer become an alfresco cafe with waiter service? Of course not. We cannot create that type of culture, we are just not that kind of nation, but wouldn't it be just divine if we could?
Tom, UK (north Mediterranean)

When the pubs open past 11pm, then we can talk.
Jill, UK

I think it's hot, though my wife who is from Brazil is still having goose pimples in our garden.
Dr Simon Williams, UK

This country does not understand the way the weather should affect people and society. We have parks but not benches. We do not open offices at 7am then close at 1pm. We don't know what a sun-ripened tomato tastes like.
Nick, London

For an old fashioned "British" summer move to grey Aberdeen. When most of the UK has brilliant sunshine, we shiver in mist. I have driven from Braemar to Aberdeen during July and seen the temp fall from 25C to 10C on the coast. I'm all in favour of any temperature increase. When the sun shines people smile!
Neil Brown, Scotland

I live in Pontypridd and I have managed to grow lemons from seed as well as avocado. Yes it is certainly getting hotter. I would dare not work out in the open pulling weeds as I used to do for a living.
James Walker, South Wales

The River Thames only froze because the old wooden bridges used to slow down the water flow, thereby giving the cold weather a better chance of freezing the water. If there was still such a bridge it would still be a regular occurrence.
Wai Ming Lee, UK

I've been in London 3 years now, and this is the first summer that doesn't see me gloomy and depressed. If the weather keeps on changing, there should however be 1) more offices with air conditioning 2) more open-air bars, restaurants and clubs and 3) nicer beaches and cleaner and warmer sea.
Claudia, ex-Italy

There's a body of opinion that melting ice caps will move the Gulf Stream south. If this happens, it's likely UK temperatures will get lower and be more like Canada, the south parts of which are nearer the equator than Britain and whose winters are far worse.
Mark Morton, Leeds, UK

The British attitude to the weather is so endearing now I live abroad. If there's so much as a snowflake, the country grinds to a halt, and if the mercury tops 28C for more than 24 hours it's a heatwave and nobody turns up for work! Here in Geneva we've basked in 32-35C since May. It even has an official name - summer.
Gavin, Switzerland (ex-Welsh)

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