There’s no doubt the summer of 2018 will be remembered as one of the hottest and driest in living memory, with average temperatures over the peak period hitting 15.8°C – a pinch over the previous record of the mythical summer of 1976, when they averaged 15.77°C. While we humans sweltered, Mother Nature took it all in her stride, but wherever there are temperature extremes, there will be winners and losers.
One of the core activities at the Heart of England Forest is tree planting; we planted 141,566 trees during the 2017/18 planting season taking the total planted in the Forest so far to 1,755,513. But there are always risks when establishing newly planted trees and it was no surprise that there were a greater number of casualties as a result of this summer’s hot weather.
While tree saplings are planted in the autumn and winter when they are dormant, for them to thrive they need to establish a strong, healthy root system in the spring and not be exposed to excessive stress during their first two or three years. The unusually dry summer meant that the first year of the 2017/18 saplings was unusually tough, and while survival rates were generally good in most of the newly planted parts of the Forest, exposed, south-facing and well drained areas experienced above average losses, occasionally up to 56% compared to the average 5% that we normally expect and plan for.
With the new planting season starting on November 1st, one of our priorities is replacing saplings lost to the punishing temperatures and resultant dry ground we experienced this summer.
Flourishing fruit, vanishing vegetation
While British wine growers were dancing a joyous jig after the summer sun helped them produce bumper crops, so, too, the wildlife that depend on the Forest for a feast of fruit are beginning to see the benefit. With the late summer came trees and hedgerows bursting with plump fruit and ample seeds. Migrating birds heading to the UK from Scandinavia will reap the benefits as the first frosts appear. Less fortunate were some of our insects such as caterpillars, that depend on leaves for sustenance. Butterflies were much in evidence during this year’s heatwave, but the hot, dry summer may result in a reduction in the numbers of some species such as the common blue and ringlet next year. Their caterpillars feed on plants and grasses that prefer cooler summers, so it is possible some of their caterpillars failed to mature and pupate in time for the winter.
Taking steps before it is too late
A recent United Nations report on climate change, compiled by some of the world’s leading scientific experts on the matter, has warned that drastic action is required immediately, or the world will reach the ‘point of no return’ in roughly twelve years’ time. Consistently increasing temperatures resulting from human activity is are leading to rising sea levels, risks of flooding, drought or extreme temperature fluctuations resulting in increased global poverty for millions of people. Advocating action to keep temperature rises to between 1.5°C and 2°C, the report recommends a variety of feasible and affordable actions. Among those highlighted as critical is reforestation, meaning that vast tree planting programmes such as the Heart of England Forest take on even more heightened importance, contributing greatly to reducing the levels of carbon created by human industry and recycling it as oxygen.
You can help us by ‘doing your bit’. If you have a few hours to spare, why not join our band of volunteers and help us replace some of the young trees lost during the sizzling summer as we grow the country’s largest new native broadleaf forest. Find out more about how you can help us to put the brakes on climate change at www.heartofenglandforest.com/get-involved/volunteering