Watchdog warns of ‘false autumn' because of drought
Rural watchdog, the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), claims spectacular autumnal scenes may not materialise this year because many trees have already lost their leaves in the drought.
According to CLA West Midlands, trees across the region are particularly susceptible to the phenomenon of leaves turning early, often described as a "false autumn".
The arrival of the season is usually signalled with leaves turning to red, gold and orange, but this year many of the trees have already dropped their leaves in order to conserve energy during a prolonged dry period.
The contrast with last year, when woodland colours were exceptionally vivid as a result of the wet summer, will be marked as the effect of the driest start to the year since 1929 begins to be noticed.
CLA Forestry Adviser, Mike Seville, said: "Drought is a form of climatic stress experienced by trees, and wilting leaves is a common symptom as the water levels in the leaves reduce to an extent that they can no longer maintain their structure.
"If wilting continues then leaves will eventually die and fall off. Some species will also deliberately shed leaves to reduce further water loss, as leaves contain microscopic pores through which water normally evaporates as part of the tree's normal function.
"Drought is not the only factor which causes 'early autumn' effects," added Mike. "The loss of leaves can also be caused by pests such as fungi or insects. A common example of this is horse chestnut, which suffers from leaf die-back from July onwards across much of England on account of the horse chestnut leaf miner insect and also the leaf blotch fungus.
CLA member, Lockhart Garratt - a Midlands based forestry consultancy - said tree owners shouldn't be concerned. Their expert Ian Dudley said: "Trees are likely to return to full vigour in the spring and it takes several dry years to have long lasting effects on all but the youngest and oldest trees.
"Oak trees also experience a second period of growth in August, known as Lammas growth, which can help them recover in years in which the spring and early summer is dry. The most common issue is loss of tree form, as trees tend to die back from the top first, working towards the roots.
"When planting amenity trees, the easiest way to reduce the effects of drought is to install and use an irrigation system around the tree's roots. This is a perforated pipe which delivers water from a tube at ground level to the rooting system where it is needed. This is more effective than surface watering, which evaporates quickly on hot days and also encourages the development of roots near the surface which leave the tree more susceptible to future drought," added Ian.
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