Largest tree losses in 20 years

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Latest update 10.03.2014 11:11

Research has revealed that some of the country’s favourite woodland places have seen their biggest loss of trees in a generation as a result of the extreme winter weather.

Over 50 of the sites we care for have been surveyed, with many gardeners, rangers and foresters saying that the loss of trees has been the greatest in more than two decades and, in some cases, since the Great Storm of October 1987.

High winds and extreme weather throughout winter have seen some places lose hundreds of trees, including many valued ancient trees.

We care for 25,000 hectares (61,776 acres) of woodland across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We look after many world famous trees including Newton's Apple Tree at Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire and the tree at Runnymede in Surrey where the Magna Carta was signed.

Many of the trees that have been lost have blown over rather than snapped off due to the saturated ground conditions. However the big picture varies, with some places seeing little damage, and unlike the storms of 1987 and 1990, nowhere has been devastated.

Matthew Oates, our nature and wildlife specialist, 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.’

The Killerton Estate in Devon has suffered some of the biggest losses, with more than 500 trees blown over by the storms, including 20 significant trees within the design landscape.

Many other specimen trees in gardens and parks have been blown over or badly damaged, particularly in South West England and in Wales. However many gardens outside the West have also suffered, such as Tatton Park, south of Manchester, Attingham Park near Shrewsbury, Nymans in Sussex and Scotney Castle in Kent.

Historically important trees have been lost

A few historically or regionally important trees have been lost, such as a rare black walnut at Hatfield Forest, which was the largest in Essex.

Sometimes ‘wind blow’ in woods presents a good opportunity for natural re-colonisation by pioneer species such as ash and sallows.

Alan Power, head gardener at Stourhead in Wiltshire, said: ‘Over the past three or four weeks we’ve lost 20 trees in the garden, with up to 400 across the wider estate.

‘We've lost one spectacular oak tree, which could well be between 200-250 years-old and planted by the man who created the landscape garden at Stourhead.

‘Storms like we’ve seen this winter are all part of the estate's history. If people can come along and they do see the trees on the ground they'll realise it's not just a one off, it happens throughout the history of the estate and it is part of working so closely with nature.’

Matthew Oates added: ‘As people venture out this spring, they will still be able to see these fantastic places, but a few old friends may be missing or lying down providing interesting wildlife habitats.

‘Our teams are working hard to keep access to our gardens and parkland open by clearing any fallen trees from footpaths.’