The UK was battered with the heaviest rainfall and most frequent severe gales on record this winter, say scientists.

Climate scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) say the severe conditions, which brought flooding misery to many farmers and homeowners, could signal the onset of climate change.

Long-term records reveal that four of the six most severe flood episodes since 1871 have occurred in the last 30 years.

Meanwhile, data on wind patterns shows the UK was battered by 10 very severe gales – almost double the previous record.

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Dr Colin Harpham from UEA’s climatic research unit, said: “By looking back over 150 years we are able to place recent extreme weather in a historical context.

“This was clearly the stormiest period of weather experienced by the UK for at least 20 years. But our data also shows that these sorts of weather conditions are becoming more frequent.”

The UEA’s findings were released as the United Nations published its latest report on climate change on Monday (31 March).

The report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that climate change was already happening now.

It said that the UK and northern Europe was one of the regions under most risk of flooding, heatwaves and droughts in the coming years.

Food security comes under great scrutiny in the report. It warns that global crops yields of staple crops – particularly wheat – were beginning to decline.

And by 2050, climate change in the form of severe droughts and wet weather could hit crop yields for maize, rice and wheat by more than 25%.

“Negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive impacts,” the report warns.

Summarising the report, Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the IPCC, said: “Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.”