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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 September 2005, 10:03 GMT 11:03 UK
What is happening to autumn?
Autumn scene
Hot weather means brighter leaves
Sun worshippers won't want to hear it but autumn is spreading, eating into summer and winter. The result - blackberries in July and conkers in August.

Ripening blackberries are a traditional sign of autumn's arrival, but this year they made it onto the menu alongside strawberries at Wimbledon.

Their inclusion reflects much more than just the culinary tastes of tennis fans, it suggests the season - which does not officially arrive until the equinox on 22 September - is undergoing some serious changes.

The age-old signs of autumn are beginning to appear in summer and the season also stretches well into a time that winter used to claim as its own, says the Woodland Trust. It says the changes are a result of global warming.

Devastating

"Everything used to have its set place in the year," says a spokesman for the trust. "Nature is responding to our change in climate, falling out of sync and getting messed up. It impacts upon everything."

Some of the consequences of these changes are being welcomed. This year is predicted to be the most colourful autumn in living memory, as the warm, dry weather in the run up to September has increased sugar concentration in leaves, boosting the intensity of colour.

Conkers
Drilled, strung and ready for action
The Forestry Commission and Woodland Trust are both promoting the best British woodlands in which to see the kaleidoscope of colour. It could be a lucrative move, with the 'tree peeping' industry in the United States reportedly worth $8bn to the New England economy alone.

But experts are also warning of serious consequences for wildlife and birds as a result of the autumnal changes. Blackberries ripening earlier could have a devastating effect on animals that rely on stored energy from the fruit to help them to hibernate.

They could stock up on berries too soon and not have enough to see them through the winter. It could also mean there will not be enough left for those birds that come to the UK from other places during the winter.

Impact

Some gardeners are also finding they now have to cut their lawns all year round. Grass grows at temperatures above 5C, so longer autumns and milder winters are resulting in more work with the mower.

While much research has been done on the early signs of Spring, there is little data on autumnal changes. The Woodland Trust, along with the BBC and the UK Phenology Network, is running an Autumnwatch project to monitor the changes.

The project could help plan for the future to protect vulnerable species, say experts.

"Climate change is not something happening a million miles away - it is going on in our back gardens and parks, affecting common everyday species," says TV wildlife expert, Bill Oddie.


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