How does Climate Change Effect Trees?

2022 was the warmest year on record according to the Met Office, and research suggests that warmer, drier weather is set to increase as climate change continues to be a threat. But what will the long-term effects of this hotter weather be on tree health in the UK?

Research into the effects of climate change on trees has raised concerns regarding the increase in temperature as well as the lack of precipitation. Both are likely to increase the effect of evapotranspiration, which can result in soil water deficits. Combined with the lack of rainfall for successive years, the UK landscape is set to undergo significant changes.

By the end of summer, many mature trees began to show signs of drought stress – dropping leaves or needles as part of a defence mechanism. While the plant sheds the part of itself that is responsible for water loss via transpiration, it also loses its surface area for photosynthesis.

Stressed trees have a higher susceptibility to diseases, parasites and insects, whose spread and reproductive success is heightened by rising temperatures. While healthy trees in urban areas may mitigate the impact of climate change, this relies on the trees having a high level of resistance and adaptability to climate and soil conditions to survive.

New trees planting in a field

Research shows that trees less than 40 years old are more resistant to extreme droughts compared to trees aged 40-120. Older trees face a greater hydraulic challenge in terms of lifting water from roots to crown against the effects of gravity. Moreover, mature plants have larger crowns which are exposed to more solar radiation, and consequently evaporate more.

These challenging climactic conditions emphasise the need for greater focus on correct planting, suitable soil, and adequate management to help prevent the failure of trees. Existing species must be monitored and maintained appropriately to increase life expectancy.

Where specimens are replaced or planted on new sites, greater consideration should be given to drought tolerance and heat tolerance.

4th Corner offer tree planting as part of our soft landscaping services. We believe that tree planting is the most important part of arboriculture, so getting it right is crucial. We offer an aftercare and maintenance programme to secure optimum plant growth and continued health. This may include herbicide applications, fence and guard maintenance, pruning and watering.

4th Corner provides reliable, cost-effective management for all planting schemes. Check out our Tree Planting page for more information.