Summer might be in full swing but you'd be forgiven for thinking we were in the midst of autumn as trees across Norfolk have been shedding leaves.

The prolonged hot weather and drought has sparked a 'false autumn' in the county, causing trees to shed leaves prematurely in a bid to conserve water and energy to survive the heat.

These conditions could spell disaster for wildlife with signs of "tremendous stress" evident, according to Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT).

What is causing the 'False Autumn'?

"We are used to leaves dropping when it gets colder but they also do it when they can't afford to lose water" said Nick Acheson, ambassador for the NWT.

"Trees use photosynthesis to create food and energy but to do so they lose lots of water in the process.

"There comes a point when they are at risk and have to conserve water by losing leaves, which is what we are seeing.

"This is very significant and it wouldn't happen without human-induced climate change which has caused the record-breaking hot weather this summer."

How will this impact wildlife?

Younger trees are most at risk as they do not have the older root systems older trees have but the stress caused by the hot weather could leave all trees more susceptible to disease, according to the NWT.

Mr Acheson said: "Unquestionably there are signs of tremendous stress impacting trees across Norfolk.

"Many young trees without established roots are dying and older trees are shedding leaves early.

"Trees and plants are keystones of our natural environments and if they are unhealthy it will have a hugely detrimental impact to the region's ecosystems."

Blackberries, hawthorn berries, hazelnuts and other fruits are appearing much earlier than usual, with reports suggesting the drought has made many wild fruits smaller and less juicy than normal.

This could leave birds and mammals that rely on these food sources in danger of going hungry, putting species like squirrels and door mice at risk as they will be unable to build fat reserves needed to survive the winter months.

For Mr Acheson, the 'false autumn' is just one part of the story of climate change's impact.

"The climate crisis is causing a change in weather patterns, which has an impact on all species.

"This year there will be all manner of species that haven't bred successfully, which we will find out about later on.

"You can see the impact on birds in particular. We are seeing larger number of species from warmer climates whereas species who like cooler conditions can't cope anymore."

What people can do to help

The Wildlife Trust has asked people to put out a regular supply of water at ground level in their gardens, so it is accessible to animals such as hedgehogs and badgers, as well as traditional bird baths.

People can also put out high energy foods, such as sunflower hearts, nuts and fat balls for birds, and commercially available hedgehog food at ground level.

While this is helpful in the short term, Norfolk Wildlife Trust are urging people to take more action to protect our natural habitats.

"It is really important that people start really informing themselves about climate change and think about their individual impact.

"This summer is just a taste of what is to come and we need to act against it.

"We need to restore nature across the county and create a nature recovery network that will allow wildlife to move through the landscape, be it farmland, nature reserves and private gardens.

"We need nature to be robust and adaptable so we need to promote an environment that allows for this.

"Nature provides all the food and resources we need and this will suffer without a resilient landscape, which is what NWT and our partners are working towards."