'New climate' detected as Britain grows ever hotter

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The Independent Online

England has become a full degree Celsius warmer since the Beatles started playing - and human activity is the cause, according to research released yesterday.

Since 1960, when John, Paul and George formed their legendary band - Ringo came later - the average temperature in England has undergone a remarkably steep rise, according to the research, released by the UK Met Office. Yet scientists are convinced that the new warmth, which is allowing red wine to be made in Surrey and olives to be grown in Devon, is not part of the climate's natural variability.

Instead, it is part of the global warming being caused by emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide from industry and transport.

Furthermore, the warming of England is proceeding much more rapidly than the warming of the Earth as a whole, which has warmed by about 0.6C over the last century. England's average temperature has increased by nearly double that rate, in less than half the time. This is because the land is warming more quickly than the sea, and land at high latitudes - nearer the Poles - is warming more quickly than at low ones.

The new findings, which represent the first time that man-made climate change has ever been identified at such a local level, were unveiled yesterday at the Climate Clinic at the Liberal Democrat party conference in Brighton.

Created by Britain's major environmental group - with The Independent as media partner - the Climate Clinic is a roadshow-cum-think tank formed to press for tougher action on climate change. It will be lobbying hard at all three party conferences.

The new research was set out in Brighton by one of Britain's leading climate scientists, Dr Peter Stott of the Met Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research. It is based on close analysis of the Central England Temperature record (CET), which is the longest-running series of temperature data in the world, dating back to 1659. (By comparison, the global temperature record dates back only to 1860.)

The CET represents a roughly triangular area of the UK enclosed by Bristol, Lancashire and London. It is now calculated as the average of the surface air temperature at three stations: Stonyhurst in Lancashire, Pershore in Worcestershire and Rothamsted in Hertfordshire.

Although the record has always gone up and down, at the end of the 1950s the CET average began a climb which is still continuing; the average has risen a full degree in just over 45 years, from 9.4C to 10.4C, giving England the beginnings of a new climate. Investigation of this rise by Dr Stott and another senior scientist, David Karoly from the University of Oklahoma in the US, which was also published yesterday in the journal Atmospheric Science Letters, has identified a man-made climate change "signal", meaning it cannot be explained by the climate's natural variation.

The recent warming they have detected "is consistent with the model response to increasing greenhouse gases ... and is not consistent with response to changes in natural external forcing, or to natural internal climate variations," Dr Stott and Dr Karoly say in their paper.

One of the significant points about the research is that it is the first time that scientists have looked at such a small geographical area and identified a temperature rise that can only be explained by anthropogenic (human-induced) factors.

In Brighton yesterday, Dr Stott said: "This is a remarkable anthropogenic signal. Sharp spikes in warming have been recorded in regions across the world, but because we in the UK hold this unique temperature record stretching back nearly 350 years we are able to say that background climate 'noise' can't reasonably be held responsible for what's happening in Central England.

"This is the first time anywhere in the world that climate scientists have been able to look at a small geographical area, identify significant warming and say humans have very likely played a part."

Changing way of life

* BURGUNDY ON THE NORTH DOWNS

Although white wine grapes can do well here, England has hitherto always been too cool for red wine grapes, and in particular for the pinot noir, the classic grape of Burgundy. But at the Denbies wine estate near Dorking, Surrey - on the North Downs, 25 miles from central London - the pinot noir grape is now flourishing and producing a delicious Burgundy, English-style. (But be warned: it's not cheap.)

* RING OUZELS DISAPPEARING

Britain's mountain blackbird, the ring ouzel, which lives on cool mountain tops and high moors, is disappearing because of rising atmospheric temperatures, scientists believe. Numbers of the attractive black and white bird have dropped by almost 60 per cent in the past decade, in the English and Welsh moorlands and in Scotland. They have already gone from the Long Mynd, a ridge of high ground in south Shropshire, where there were 12 pairs in 1999.

* HAY FEVER RAMPANT

The warmer climate is to blame for the steadily rising numbers of Britons suffering from hay fever, according to the UK's leading pollen specialist. Pollen seasons are lengthening and the pollen itself is provoking a more powerful reaction - a situation already being reflected in rising GP consultation rates for hay fever, according to Professor Jean Emberlin, director of the National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit at the University of Worcester.

* OLIVES IN DEVON

Britain's first olive grove has been planted in Devon. Temperatures have risen so far in recent years that it is now considered possible to grow the iconic fruit of the Mediterranean countries commercially in southern England. Mark Diacono, a Devon smallholder, has planted a grove of 120 olive trees on the banks of the river Otter near Honiton. He hopes for a commercial crop which will produce Britain's first home-grown olive oil in five to seven years.

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