The recent warm weather is causing an abundance of early-ripening blackberries across Britain
The statistics form key biological data records used by scientists to assess climate change
Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith is a freelance reporter. She was nominated for business journalist of the year at the Press Gazette British Journalism Awards 2012 and her name is so long that she has a double-decker byline in print.
Sunday 27 July 2014
Blackberry aficionados should be at the ready as the fruit has been found ripening by the bucket-load across the UK, and nearly a month ahead of schedule. Four times as many early-ripening fruit bushes have been noted this year compared to 2013, in key biological data records used by scientists to assess climate change.
The warm weather has helped to boost the growth and ripening of blackberries up and down the country. Blackberries are not usually seen at their fullest until August and can stay succulent until well into September. But this year the fruit has already been sighted in abundance.
The blackberry season can span July to November, and early ripening is not entirely uncommon, but this year's crop is "unusual", says the Woodland Trust's Dr Kate Lewthwaite.
"It is perhaps more common than people might realise to see blackberries in July, but what is unusual is that we have had a far wider abundance across the UK this year than last year," she said.
Dr Lewthwaite is the project manager for the Woodland Trust's Nature's Calendar, an initiative that tracks biological records and measures the impact of climate change. She said there have been four times as many sightings of ripened blackberries this year compared to the same time last year.
"This fits into a longer-term trend where autumn fruiting has been two or three weeks earlier over the last 15 years or so. Although we are in the middle of summer, autumn is definitely on its way," she added.
And the signs of autumn sprouting in July are not confined to blackberries; Dr Lewthwaite said Nature Calendar's data shows there are around twice the number of rowan berry records for this time of year, too.
But BBC science presenter and Kew-trained botanist James Wong said it is not "dramatically different" to see blackberries out later in July, instead calling it "pretty normal" for the fruit to be ripe for picking about now.
"What they may be is sweeter and more nutrient-dense, due to the high light levels and low rainfall," he said, adding that the warm, dry weather may have increased the total number of fruits because pollinators such as bees have been more active, while plants have been more "stressed".
Either way, the kind of blackberry to be found and when depends on its variety and where it is growing, argues television presenter and organic gardener Bob Flowerdew.
"There is a huge difference between the south and the north of England, and indeed Scotland. Different varieties of blackberry tend to flower in different times of the month," he said, while adding that the overall warming of climates has had an effect on the times that the fruit grows and ripens.
On the whole, the ripening of this year's blackberries is not "unbelievably" early, Mr Flowerdew said.
"Most of my blackberries are well ahead and I've got quite a few varieties. But it's not as though they are ripening in May; it's only a few weeks earlier than average."
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