UK Heatwave: 5 Stories That Show Britain Really Isn't Coping

Giving ice lollies to zoo animals is probably sound – wearing a bearskin hat less so.
<strong>A member of the Queen's Guard receives water to drink during the hot weather, outside Buckingham Palace in London.</strong>
A member of the Queen's Guard receives water to drink during the hot weather, outside Buckingham Palace in London.
JOHN SIBLEY via REUTERS

Britain is struggling to cope in the heatwave as temperatures have topped 38C, with train services cut, schools closed and ambulance crews facing rising numbers of 999 calls.

The Met Office was forecasting temperatures could break the existing UK record, of 38.7C, recorded in Cambridge in 2019, on Monday or Tuesday.

Here are just a handful of the stories that show how the country is coping – and how it really isn’t.

1. Melting runways

The Royal Air Force said on Monday aircraft were not able to land at its biggest base after Sky News reported the hot weather had “melted the runway”.

The military was forced to use alternative airfields due to “extreme temperature”. Meanwhile, a major airport runway was also closed.

“During this period of extreme temperature flight safety remains the RAF’s top priority, so aircraft are using alternative airfields in line with a long-established plan. This means there is no impact on RAF operations,” the RAF said of flights at RAF Brize Norton, in a statement posted on Twitter by the Ministry of Defence.

Engineers were called out to London Luton Airport to look at what was described as a “surface defect” on the runway.

Footage showed a large rectangular-shaped area on the tarmac being examined by people in high-vis vests on Monday afternoon.

2. Free ice cream on the frontline

As emergency responders experience a rise in 999 calls, significant pressures on ambulance services were being “compounded” by the extreme heat, according to health secretary Steve Barclay.

To help the frontline cope, NHS staff were given free ice cream to help them battle the soaring temperatures.

<strong>Hospital staff at Alder Hey Children's Charity of hospital staff who were given free ice cream to help them battle the soaring temperatures.</strong>
Hospital staff at Alder Hey Children's Charity of hospital staff who were given free ice cream to help them battle the soaring temperatures.
Alder Hey Children's Charity via PA Media

Organised by several independent groups, ice cream vans parked up outside hospitals and medical centres across various areas in the UK to offer workers some relief from the heat.

Meanwhile, one hospital was reportedly faced with some local difficulties as it attempted to keep cool.

3. Queen’s Guards swelter in bearskin hats

Tradition is everything for the monarchy. But it might seem odd to many that the Queen’s Guard still has to wear traditional bearskin hats as the temperature outside Buckingham Palace was estimated to be around 34C. Their hats, up to 18 inches tall, are made from Canadian brown bears and are thought to weigh 1.5lbs.

The guards are stationed outside the palace, and expected not to break concentration, which explains why armed forces colleagues were pictured marching a beverage to one unfortunate serviceman on duty. Another photo showed a police officer helping quench a guard’s thirst.

4. Suncreen for the roads

Council gritters were on stand-by to spread light dustings of sand on melting roads. It was reported Norfolk County Council has been using gritter lorries to prevent bitumen from melting.

A spokesperson said: “We have been dusting some roads over the weekend and will continue to treat as required over the next few days especially, and beyond if road surface temps remain high.”

5. Zoo animals get ice lollies

Chester zoo said it would close for two days, while London Zoo and Whipsnade Zoo said many animals would be able to retreat to “cool zones” and some exhibits might be closed.

Meanwhile, several have introduced additional measures to keep animals cool – with Colchester Zoo in Essex offering its residents frozen bottles of water, ice enrichment, and sprinklers.

At Bristol Zoo, squirrel monkeys, kea parrots and red pandas were given ice lollies filled with vegetables, leaves or mealworms, while the seals tucked into frozen fish in ice blocks as they frolicked in their pool.

Animals at ZSL London Zoo were also given “healthy ice pops” made from “frozen sugar-free iced tea, filled with nuts and seeds”.

Not all animals were being treated with such care, with police officers forced to smash a car window to rescue a dog. Officers said they were forced to make the rescue at the RAF Museum in Hendon on Monday.

“Unbelievably, our officers have just had to smash the window of a vehicle to get a dog out at the RAF museum Hendon. 31.5 degrees! JUST DON’T TAKE DOGS OUT IN THIS HEAT,” said Barnet Police on social media.

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