‘Unique’ autumn show predicted for UK trees – but decline may follow

National Trust says dazzling display this year may be reversed if trees continue to face extreme summers

After a year of extreme weather, a “unique” show of golden browns and buttery yellows could light up the UK’s trees in the next few weeks, a conservation charity has predicted, while warning that the impact of the climate emergency could threaten the show in autumns to come.

The National Trust said that some stressed trees had shed leaves early during a “false autumn” because of the summer’s exceptional heat and dryness but said that it, nonetheless, believed a particularly vivid October and November could be on the way.

Pamela Smith, senior national gardens and parks consultant at the trust, said the depth of colour would be reduced in some places where leaves had fallen early. But she said the summer’s high temperatures and drought could lead to an interesting different kind of autumn. “We may see more golden browns and yellows,” she said. “This year could be quite a unique display.”


Nothing is certain. The proviso is that trees needed to have built up enough sugars in their leaves in the spring to produce the vivid colours that the UK’s growing band of “leaf peepers” enjoy. The right combination of light, temperature – and a lack of wind – is needed for an extra special show.

Smith said: “Ideally over the next two weeks we need sunshine, rain, no strong winds and to see temperatures starting to dip. We’ll get the first indications of how good this year’s autumn colour will be in the north, as typically temperatures start to drop here first. It’s likely we will still see the full colour spectrum, but this year is a warning to us all of how what we’ve previously taken for granted may be at risk.”

John Deakin, the head of trees and woodlands, said trees were resilient, particularly the oldest ones, which have endured centuries of storms, droughts and winter frosts.

But he added: “Despite their potential to span millennia, trees will struggle to survive consecutive summers of searingly hot temperatures and not enough rain. The damage to their vascular system and energy reserves is cumulative and may reach crisis point, meaning we will see more trees starting to decline and die, and they’ll also be more susceptible to pests and disease.”

At Stourhead, one of the British gardens most celebrated for its dazzling October yellows and reds, head gardener Tim Parker said last year had not been a vintage one for autumn colour in the Wiltshire garden. “It was a bit of a flash, then everything held its leaves until December – an odd one.”

And he said there had also been some worrying losses this summer, including the death of two 15-year-old dawn redwoods, which may have succumbed to the extreme weather. “That was a real surprise but a lot of trees are showing the stress and the strain.”

However, when he showed the Guardian around this week, he could point out the softly changing hues of the candyfloss trees, the acers and beeches. “I love the changing of the seasons,” he said. “It’s one of the great things about living in this country. We’ve had a bit of rain and some good sun so far this autumn – a better leadup than last. I’ve got a feeling it could be a special one for us.”


Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
UK wildlife ‘devastated by litany of weather extremes’ in 2022
National Trust’s annual audit reveals a dire year for animals from toads and bats to birds and butterflies

Steven Morris

28, Dec, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
Wet UK summer brings high hopes for spectacular autumn display
National Trust predicts reversal of last year’s dull October and November, with show starting in Scotland

Steven Morris

06, Oct, 2023 @4:00 AM

Article image
Use your waste water to save street trees, experts urge
Dishwater and bathwater can be used to give vital support that councils often cannot afford to young trees

Amy Walker

01, Aug, 2019 @9:37 AM

Article image
National Trust calls on UK government to improve climate resilience
‘Urgent and unswerving attention’ required to deal with rising temperatures and extreme weather

Steven Morris

20, Nov, 2023 @5:00 AM

Article image
David Attenborough says nature is in crisis but ‘we have the solutions’
Broadcaster speaks as Save Our Wild Isles campaign launches to halt destruction of nature in UK

Hannah Devlin Science correspondent

13, Mar, 2023 @12:14 PM

Article image
‘Joyous’: Cornish seed-scattering event marks fightback against habitat loss
Volunteers and fiddle group help launch three-year project to create wildflower meadow across Cornwall

Steven Morris

14, Sep, 2023 @1:31 PM

Article image
‘They were chilled’: bated breath as beavers released in Northumberland
Animals make first return to the county in 400 years as National Trust introduces family of four to Wallington estate

Mark Brown North of England correspondent

12, Jul, 2023 @4:00 PM

Article image
Cornish farm launches project to triple UK’s temperate rainforest
Former soldier is transforming his land on Bodmin Moor with tree planting and natural regeneration

Patrick Barkham

08, May, 2023 @1:54 PM

Article image
National Trust tells of bats in distress and water features drying up in heat
Charity says extreme conditions a ‘watershed moment’ and it is planning for long-term hot weather

Jessica Murray Midlands correspondent

10, Aug, 2022 @5:00 AM

Article image
Dry weather boosts UK's most endangered butterfly
High brown fritillary population rises due to harsh winter and sunny spring

Steven Morris

01, Jul, 2018 @11:01 PM