IT'S normally one of the first signs of autumn when teachers have to confiscate pupils' conkers after a fight gets out of hand.

But this year school children may have to find something else to occupy themselves during play time in the playground.

Schools across the area reopened their doors this week but traditional childhood favourite the conker is missing from the trees.

The Woodland Trust claims the sizzling summer heatwave and prolonged drought has caused a delay across the region to this popular first sign of autumn.

In 2017 – through its Nature’s Calendar recording project – the first sighting in the north west was August 20 in Cumbria, then August 29 in Lancashire and September 1 in Cheshire.

There are yet to be any this year.

The first sighting nationally this year was in Wiltshire on August 18 – six weeks later than the year before.

The charity said the hot weather, coupled with the lack of water, could have delayed the horse chestnut trees ripening their fruit.

Martha Boalch, citizen science officer for the Woodland Trust, said: “The ripening of conkers is delayed this year and there are many factors that could come into play.

"This year’s heatwave will have encouraged fruit to grow more rapidly, but lack of water may have stopped conkers from growing to their full potential.

"Tree pests and diseases such as the horse chestnut leaf miner and bleeding canker can also affect the health of horse chestnut trees."

But she said all is not lost: “Although we’ve only had a small number of conkers recorded so far, over the next month we would expect more fruit to ripen, but only time will tell whether this will be a bumper crop.

“For this reason, we need more people to tell us about what they see happening with local flora and fauna.

"By recording seasonal changes with our Nature’s Calendar project, we can assess how nature is coping with a changing climate – and inform wider studies.”

Through its Nature’s Calendar project the Woodland Trust relies on the public recording signs of nature through its website.

The data helps the charity understand how nature is affected by weather and climate change.

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