'Everywhere growth has stopped. Up on the plateau the biscuit- coloured vistas look more like Africa than England'
Saturday 19 August 1995
The beeches' response has been to produce immense crops of mast, or seed; and the whiskery little husks, festooning the branches in thousands, have given the trees a sickly, brownish appearance. According to a forester friend, this terrific output is a genetic reaction to emergency: sensing possible extinction, the trees are doing all they can to propagate their genes in future generations.
In fact, most will probably survive - but on some the leaves are already turning to autumnal copper and gold, two months ahead of schedule. Again, this is a crisis response: the sooner a tree can shed its leaves, the less water it needs to survive. The only real loss is that of its annual growth, which this year will be minimal.
In the great heat, woods have been consistently cooler than sun-baked fields, yet even in the shade of their canopy, the ground vegetation has withered and died in a way I have never seen before. Streams are still running, but only just, and all the higher springs have ceased to flow.
In many forest areas the danger of fire is now acute. Forestry Commission staff are on standby over the weekend and, to reduce the risk of accidental blazes, large areas of the Forest of Dean have been closed to the public altogether.
With the farmland baked as hard as concrete, earthworms cannot come to the surface and this has forced a change of diet on badgers. When their staple food was cut off, they no doubt switched for a while to wheat; but that, too, has gone, harvested in record time, and Brock is reduced to a diet of insects and wasp larvae, both luckily abundant. In a normal year, badgers would be moving on to fruit but here, too, they are going to be short: blackberries are ripe already, but small and hard as bullets, and elderberries look as if they are going to shrivel away without ever maturing. Moles and hedgehogs, which also feed on worms, are having a similarly hard time.
Predators such as foxes, stoats and buzzards, on the other hand, are having a bonanza - not because of the fine weather, but because the seasonal upsurge of myxomatosis, which breaks out every August, is rendering rabbits slow, stupid and easily caught.
Grassland is in a sorry state: our own fields, on the north-facing slope of a valley, retain tinges of green but up on the plateau the tawny, biscuit- coloured vistas look more like Africa than England. Everywhere, growth has stopped dead. Our neighbouring dairy farmer was hoping for a second cut of hay off 35 acres, but already his cows have eaten that grass - and if rain does not come within the next couple of weeks, he will have to start feeding his precious hay.
Because of the dearth of fodder, there is every sign that during the winter the price of hay will rise to unprecedented heights. Last year, its maximum in our area was just over pounds 2 for a traditional small bale. Now, already, it is pounds 3-pounds 4. Merchants pre-dict that it will reach pounds 6-pounds 8 by Christmas - and if that happens, many horse-owners are going to be in trouble.
Farmers complain that the ground is so dry and hard that it is wearing away their ploughshares in record time. Crops of broad beans have withered on the stalk and are scarcely worth harvesting. But, as always, there are compensations. Barley and wheat have yielded surprisingly well, and growers have saved up to pounds 10 a ton from not having to dry the grain with electrically-generated heat. In the orchards, apple and pear trees are so heavily loaded that owners are having to prop up the boughs to stop them breaking under the weight.
Of course, everyone is asking one question. Is this summer a freak, or is it the shape of things to come? As a boy, I loved the story of how, whenever the vicar prayed for rain, the gaffer in the side pew always piped up, "Arrr, but you won't get 'ee till the wind do go in the west."
It is alarming to sense that the time for such comfortable old adages has gone. The wind blows hot from north, south, east and west, and still no rain comes to our relief.
- 1 This restaurant has misunderstood the concept of 'cheese and biscuits'
- 2 Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
- 3 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 4 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
- 5 The 'sex selfie stick' lets you FaceTime the inside of a vagina
Delhi bus rapist blames dead victim for attack because 'girls are responsible for rape'
PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
Spiritual leader allegedly manipulated 400 men into removing testicles to be 'closer to God'
The 'sex selfie stick' lets you FaceTime the inside of a vagina
'This is what Islam tells us to do': A rare glimpse inside a Saudi Arabian prison – where Isis terrorists are showered with perks and privileges
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This precious metal refining co...
£20000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Conveyancing Fee Earne...
£40000 - £70000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...
£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...