New Forest Tree Damage Warning

7 March 2014, 08:41 | Updated: 7 March 2014, 08:43

The winter storms that battered the country caused the greatest loss of trees in a generation according to the National Trust - who say hundreds have been lost in the New Forest.

Woodlands, parks and gardens cared for by the trust have seen the worst damage for more than two decades, and in some cases since the "great storm" of 1987.

Old oak, ash and beech trees have been lost in woods, while specimen trees in parks and gardens have also been damaged as at least a dozen storms swept through the UK from December to February.

Given the extent of the wild weather, which hit the western half of England, Wales and Northern Ireland particularly badly, losses could have been worse, National Trust nature and wildlife specialist Matthew Oates said.

With extreme weather events likely to become more frequent as the climate changes, there is a need to plan what trees to grow where to make woodlands more resilient to the changes, he said.

More than 50 National Trust sites have been surveyed, with many gardeners, rangers and foresters saying that the losses of trees has been the greatest in more than two decades, although other sites had little damage.

Nowhere has been as devastated as it was in 1987 or 1990, said the trust, but some sites had lost hundreds of trees including valued ancient specimens.

Many trees were uprooted and blown over rather than snapped off, due to the saturated ground conditions.

Killerton Estate in Devon suffered some of the biggest losses, the trust said, with more than 500 trees blown over, including 20 that were significant to the estate's landscaping.

Specimen trees have been badly damaged or blown over in gardens and parks, particularly in south-west England and Wales, but gardens outside the west have also suffered, with Tatton Park near Manchester, Nymans in Sussex and Scotney Castle in Kent all affected.

Mottisfont and New Forest in Hampshire lost hundreds of trees across three areas, while Stourhead in Wiltshire suffered the loss of 400 trees across the wider estate, including an oak which could have been between 200 and 250 years old and planted by the man who created the landscape garden.

A few historically or regionally important trees were lost, including a rare black walnut at Hatfield Forest, which was the largest in Essex.

Mr Oates said there was great sadness at losing old, sentinel trees which he described as "nature's cathedrals".

He said: "People love and need trees, and the loss of specimen trees in gardens and parks, and of ancient beeches and oaks in the woods and wider countryside, hurts us all and damages much wildlife.

"We value and venerate these old sentinels and need to become increasingly aware of the power of the weather.  

"Increased storminess, and increased extreme weather events generally, are likely to stress trees further, especially veteran trees. We will have to think carefully about where we establish trees and what species we plant."

He said that in gardens, trees coming down was part of the story of those places, and they were being cleared up and would be replaced.

Trust gardens were open for business, he added. In parkland and woodland, trees would be cleared where necessary from bridleways, roads or vistas, but as much timber as possible would be left as habitat for wildlife such as beetles.