We’ve heard a lot of talk about climate change in 2021 - even before the UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021 (COP26) in Glasgow in November - but what has prompted this renewed sense of urgency for climate action?

By Jackie Collins ǀ Volunteer, Forest of Marston Vale

Hundreds of newly planted trees at Wood End  Thrift

You may have seen in the news throughout last year that many governments from around the world have committed to make changes for the better following the UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021 (COP26) that took place recently in Glasgow.

But what you may have missed is that shortly before the conference, the Met Office published its State of the UK Climate Report for 2020 - a comprehensive report on the climate conditions that we're already facing, and how weather patterns could progress if we don't take action to start slowing climate changes.

Here we're consider aspects of the report most relevant to the Forest of Marston Vale and the surrounding area, and the work that we do planting trees and managing woodland.

2020 saw noticeable increases in extremes in temperatures and rainfall

It was the third warmest year on record, with temperatures increased by more than 1°C.

We had the fifth warmest winter, with fewer frosts, the sixth warmest January and the eighth warmest spring on record.

Here in the Marston Vale we had some days during the summer that exceeded 28°C, with a high of 35°C in late July, prior to a heatwave in early August across much of England.

The report states that temperatures of 34°C or higher during the summer are becoming more common, and that night time temperatures of over 20°C are also increasing.

Nationally 2020 was the fifth wettest year since 1862 and the wettest since 2000

Six of the 10 wettest years occurred since 1998. Winters and summers now tend to be wetter, with decreased spring rainfall.

February 2020 was the wettest since 1766 and led to major flooding of national significance. Most of the UK, including Bedfordshire, received at least twice its long-term annual rainfall. Storm Ciara caused significant problems that month, made worse by Storm Dennis, arriving a week later.

Rainfall between March and May dropped dramatically to less than 20%, the driest since 1862, leading to some grass wild fires. This drop in Spring rainfall can be a problem for newly planted trees.

The summer months were wetter than average and heavy rain and flooding were a problem nationally for the rest of the year, affecting Bedfordshire at the end of December. Recent data suggests an increase nationally in the number of days of widespread heavy rain in the last few decades.

2020 was one of the least snowy years on record

The report assesses the impact of climate on nature by examining first leaf and bare tree data.

The leaf growing season in 2020 increased by 17% compared with the 1961-1990 average and the leaf-on season was extended by 6.2 days compared with the 1999-2019 baseline.

Elder and Hawthorn are usually the first to unfold their leaves, followed a month later by Silver Birch and Oak. These species are generally bare of leaves between mid to late November. 2020 saw earlier first leaf and bare tree dates for all these tree species when compared with a 1999-2019 average baseline.

How can we stop extreme weather getting worse?

It's too late to affect the 2021 State of the UK Climate Report (due for release later this year), but we know the huge environmental benefits that trees and woodlands have made to lessen the extreme weather we've already faced. The country would be in an even worse-off position had organisations like us and other England's Community Forests not been in existence. We know that the work we do going forward will make more of an impact. Fighting climate change through carbon sequestration, slowing the flow of water entering our rivers, urban cooling of our towns and cities and more - every tree that we plant in the Forest of Marston Vale helps.

To accelerate tree planting efforts in the immediate future, our Trees for Climate programme plays a significant part in national Government’s commitment to address climate change and carbon mitigation through the planting of millions of trees. Trees for Climate will also bring about much wider social, economic and environmental transformation across the country in the next five years and beyond.

It's hoped that swift action can begin to slow some of the climate trends we have already seen developing in years to come, but we'll have to keep an eye on future State of the UK Climate Reports for progress.

Source: State of the UK Climate 2020 report first published 28th July 2021 as a special issue of the International Journal of Climatology, which is the Royal Meteorological Society journal of climate science. (Authors: Mike Kendon, Mark McCarthy, Svetlana Jevrejeva, Andrew Matthews, Tim Sparks, Judith Garforth.)

Act local, save global - join the fight against climate change

Climate change is the biggest global threat to people and wildlife - there is no Planet B. We need to lower our emissions and mitigate against the damage already done by removing COfrom our atmosphere. As industries and Governments investigate ways they can reach carbon net zero, as a Community Forest we have a simple but powerful local tool at our disposal: trees.

Find out more about our 'Act local, save global' campaign