Revealed: why autumn came early to Britain this year

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WHEN Keats wrote of the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, he was not thinking of August or even early September. But in the age of the motor-car, the British may have to get accustomed to an early autumn, writes Geoffrey Lean.

For the second year running, the leaves of hundreds of thousands of trees have been turning brown since mid-August. Pollution, mainly from car exhausts, is increasingly blamed. In some areas of Britain ozone levels exceeded the World Health Organisation danger limits for trees on more than 90 days this summer. More than half the country's trees are sickly - nearly three times up on seven years ago.

Official bodies have been reluctant to accept the existence of an early autumn. The Forestry Commission will agree only that there has been 'some yellowing of leaves'. A senior official at the Department of the Environment said that there had been no systematic survey. Six years ago, a departmental review group rejected claims that pollution was damaging trees. However, its latest report says that 'ozone is likely to adversely affect tree health in parts of Britain'.

(Photograph omitted)