In 2018, Britain enjoyed one of its hottest summers in history. In fact, according to the Met Office, it was the joint hottest on record, alongside 2006, 2003 and 1976.
Records, which began in 1910, showed that the four summers all recorded an average temperature of 15.8⁰C from June-September. England had the best of it, recording a mean temperature of 17.2⁰C, and the hottest day of the year was recorded in Faversham, Kent, when it peaked at 35.3⁰C.
This made for a lot of happy members of the public, with trips to the beach and barbecues – especially during the FIFA World Cup – high on the agenda. As England reached the last four in the competition, Tesco anticipated burger sales for the week of the game to hit four million items, with more than 50 million bottles and cans expected to be consumed as well.
Of course, this is a positive for members of the public, but how does the hotter weather really impact Britain? We take a look at some examples here:
While most commercial lavender is grown in the Provence region of France, hot weather can allow the likes of the Cotswolds and Kent to be competitive in the market. This Mediterranean plant requires warm weather to thrive, meaning it can often be tough for Britain to produce their best crop. Typically, the blooming season for lavender in Britain lasts three-to-four weeks between June and July, but the extended sunshine allows for a prolonged season.
Last year’s drought and hot weather had a big effect on potato yields and the quality of the crop. The best time to seed potatoes is as soon as the ground is able to be worked on in the early spring. The best conditions for growth are in moist soil, but not waterlogged. However, the dryness can cause crops to fail.
It was estimated by the North-Western European Potato Growers (NEPG) association that the 2018 summer would have caused the crop to fall eight per cent below the five-year average in the Netherlands, France, Germany, Belgium and the UK. The British potato area was three per cent smaller in 2018 compared to 2017, which made it the third lowest area on record. Not only this, but there were quality issues noticeable with secondary growth, as well as sprouting in furrows.
As the plants in pea crops overexert themselves in a search for water, the hot weather can kill them before they reach maturity. According to the British Edible Pulses Association, the most widely affected varieties are marrowfat and split green peas.
The heatwave in the UK last year led to a poor harvest of certain types, which spread fears that there was going to be a pea shortage. However, hot weather won’t just have adverse effects on the pea industry. Longer sunshine hours were credited with boosting the overall quality of garden peas and petit pois, despite there being fewer grown.
Let’s spare a thought for how the hot weather has affected our animals too. Caterpillars, for example see their numbers plummet during sustained high temperatures. This is because the plants they need to survive wilt, meaning they struggle to pupate so they can see through the winter months.
The University of York researched this regarding 1976’s extreme summer. It found that due to the heat and a sustained drought, caterpillar numbers dwindled, with at least 50 different species yet to recover. Badgers and hedgehogs also suffer in hotter conditions, as the harder dry ground makes it difficult to dig up worms, while worms burrow deeper in an attempt to find moisture.
However, not all animals notice negative effects. With the hot weather making ants a lot more active, the likes of the green woodpecker can flourish thanks to the ant being its primary food source.
It’s not just our crops, farmers and wildlife who see a difference because of the weather, either. Our accident and emergency services are further stretched during hot spells, according to health bodies.
Chief economist of the Nuffield Trust health think tank, Prof John Appleby, said: “July 2018 was the most pressured summer month for A&E departments in recent history, showing that there's no doubt [last] summer's heatwave has caused severe strain on the NHS.”
Additional conditions that need treating during hotter periods include dehydration, kidney problems and heart failure.
Of course, we look forward to summer sunshine. So much so, many of us book our holidays to bask in the sun. However, it’s certainly something that can be ‘too much of a good thing’ for certain people and industries. As Britain deals with more frosty weather, what will summer 2019 bring?