Winter Storms – Forestry Commission Update

Heavy rains accompanied by repeated high winds have wreaked havoc across the country, and the effects are more than clear in the New Forest. Along with flooded roads and properties, trees came down easily as their roots were already waterlogged.

Forestry Commission staff on-call over the holiday period have dealt with incidents on a daily basis. As previously, you may see rather ‘untidy’ clear-ups across the forest as main priorities have to make trees safe, for example by felling overhanging limbs, or to restore access. With no let-up in the forecast, the FC will continue to respond to incidents and check trails and car parks as frequently as possible.

Do make sure that you wait until the winds die down if you’re thinking about heading out into the 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 make sure we get out to it as soon as it’s safe to do so. The best advice is to enjoy walks in more open areas of the forest whilst the poor weather continues.

The full effects of such storms take time to be collated, but Forestry Commission figures reveal that more than half (64 per cent) of the 100,000-plus woodlands across southern England were likely to have been affected in some way by the St Jude storm last October, although very few woodlands should suffer long term damage.

Although around 70,000 woods were affected by the storm, the level of damage within the vast majority of these woods was low. Crown damage was highest at 3.7% of all trees across the storm area, but these trees will recover. One per cent of larger trees across the storm area were blown over, plus another 0.5 % snapped around halfway up the trunk. In hard numbers this could account for around 10 million trees ‘lost’ from the woodlands as a result of this natural event, but we must remember that more than 650 million remain.

The trees around and below those that are damaged in a storm will compensate for any losses and grow into the gaps left in the canopy. During that time additional light will reach into the forest encouraging ground flora and wildlife in general. Windthrown and snapped trees thinly distributed across woods would be uneconomic to harvest, so most will be left in the woods. By the time the woodlands are mature enough to supply timber they should have recovered any lost volume.

Dead trees left behind by a storm will contribute to deadwood stocks in the forest and this will be a bonus for biodiversity, providing additional food sources and breeding habitats for flora and fauna such as lichens, fungi and invertebrates.

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