The recent storms, particularly St. Jude, have left their mark on the New Forest, but the impact was fortunately not as severe as had been feared and far less than that of the 1987 storm. A more detailed view of localised damage has now become clearer. After the storm, Forestry Commission staff were out immediately checking main access routes, car parks and visitor trails. We were lucky that the winds died down fairly quickly, so that it was soon safe enough for staff to get out. The most urgent jobs were prioritised and dealt with first – those blocking access to properties or roads, and any trees that had damaged stock-proof fencing. Our own forest craftsmen dealt with the majority of incidents, with some specialist tree surgery work covered by contractors.
You may see rather ‘untidy’ clear-ups across the forest at present. This is because the main priorities were to make trees safe, for example by felling overhanging limbs, or to restore access – if this could be achieved by cutting through the middle of a fallen stem, the rest of the tree either side of the road or track was left in place. With around 100 incidents on the Crown lands, the teams were deployed to act quickly and safely. The coming weeks will see the woods tidied further, with workers returning to finish jobs. The majority of trees that fell in the storm were healthy specimens, and this is testament to the proactive work done by the Forestry Commission to assess tree safety across the forest.
We are constantly on the look-out for trees that might pose most risk. Although we can’t always know which trees are likely to be damaged in strong winds, our annual Tree Safety Survey helps to identify any issues with trees that have the potential to cause damage to people or property. All trees will fall eventually, at the end of their life, but what we look for are trees that show signs of failing prematurely due to water logging, physical damage and disease. To conduct the survey we split the New Forest into three zones: zone one includes all the trees growing along railways, major A roads, popular visitor sites and car parks; zone two encompasses less busy roads and visitor spots; zone three is the wider woodland where there is minimal risk to visitors. We survey zone one every year, and zone two once every five years. We don’t routinely survey zone three as the trees in these zones aren’t likely to damage life and property if they fail.
We always carry out the minimum amount of work to make a tree safe. However, if a tree is a potential danger we’ll prune it to eliminate any hazards and if it’s severely damaged and unlikely to uphold any harsh weather conditions, it will be felled. The wood is often put to good use – selling it to merchants for firewood is a common path for trees felled along the roadside.
If the weather looks set to change again and strong winds and gales are forecast, make sure you wait until the winds die down if you’re thinking about heading out into any forest. Avoid sitting under or climbing on any branches that have been freshly snapped or broken and keep an eye out for any dangers. If you see a tree that has been blown over in the wind, you can report it to the Forestry Commission by calling 023 8028 3141 and we’ll get out to it as soon as it’s safe to do so.