Sunny outlook for Oxfordshire's groves of academe and ... olives

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The Independent Online
What future for the olive tree in Oxfordshire? Can the silver- green symbol of the Mediterranean flourish in a landscape of oakwoods and bluebells? Can we sip chianti under its leaves without leaving Britain?

Most certainly, according to the BBC weatherman, Bill Giles. Perhaps not, according to Kew Gardens.

This holiday difference of opinion occurred yesterday when Mr Giles announced that he has already cleared a space for olive trees in his Oxfordshire garden, and will be planting them soon. The reason? Global warming. The Mediterranean idyll would become possible in Britain in the next 20 to 30 years because of milder winters and scorching summers, he said.

"The main underlying theme is that you should be planning for the next 20 to 40 years' time. I have not yet planted any trees, but I have cleared a space because they take so long to mature," said Mr Giles.

"People have really got to plan ahead," he explained. "The climate is going to be a lot warmer in 20 to 30 years and trees take a while to mature. You've got to start thinking about what the climate is going to be like.

"I think it will be feasible to have olive groves in this country if the climate keeps on warming up. All the information I get from the Met Office does point towards the gradual increase in temperatures. We do think the winters will get milder and wetter and don't expect to see too many frosts down here."

Mr Giles, who has been chosen to lead a team of presenters on a new BBC programme called The Weather Show which is devoted to Britain's national obsession, said that global warming was moving the climate northwards at about 10 kilometres a year.

"It is of course more feasible [to grow olives] in southern England, but by the year 2030 the temperature in Dundee would be a similar to the temperature in Oxfordshire," Mr Giles said.

"We will be in a climate which is very different from now. People will be able to grow vines in their back gardens."

Experts at London's Kew Gardens said yesterday that their own outdoor olive tree has flowered this year for the first time since it was planted 15 years ago. It was planted outside as an experiment but has proved to be more hardy than imagined, said Dave Davies, a Kew manager.

"It is due to the better weather conditions. I think we have been getting milder winters. The plant is not that hardy and has to be planted in the south of this country," Mr Davies said. "We do like to experiment with plants."

However, Mr Davies ruled out olive or lemon groves becoming part of the British landscape in years to come.

"Who knows what the weather is going to do? I can't see frosts disappearing. Cornwall got hammered a few years ago because of frost.

"Even if you have a good summer you still have to protect the plants from winter weather. Normally it gets warmer just before an ice age."

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