Weatherwatch: earlier harvests show UK’s climate is changing

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<span>Photograph: Alex McGregor/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Alex McGregor/Alamy

It has been an exceptional year, but 69% of the winter barley crop in England, Wales and Scotland was harvested by 19 July. By then in the south and east farmers were already well on with the wheat crop too. One problem was that overnight temperatures were so high that to avoid the risk of fire and damage to the crop, the grain had to be cooled before it could be put in grain stores. This is the earliest recorded harvest of recent times – the previous record was set in 2006.

This is in sharp contrast to the harvests of the 1950s and 60s. August was when harvesting usually began, even in the south, and sometimes ran on into September if the weather was particularly wet.

The changing earlier average time for the start of the harvest in the last 60 years is a useful indicator of how quickly climate change is happening in Britain. It has advanced roughly a month. The temperature this year has been 2.6C above the long-term average.

In contrast entries in the diary of a Hertfordshire farmer made in the seven years up to 1812 showed that 29 July was the earliest start of harvest, but it usually began in the second week of August.

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