Killerton's 500 storm hit trees won't go to waste

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The recent winter storms caused the greatest loss of trees in 20 years for the National Trust and the repair work continues months after the Valentine’s Day storm surge hit the south west.

The loss of 500 trees across the 6,400 acre Killerton estate was heartbreaking. It included veteran trees that stood for decades in the historic parkland, specimen trees in the formal garden that were significant to the landscaping, saplings planted by volunteers in Ashclyst Forest and countless trees growing in the wider countryside and woodlands.

But it’s not all bad news. Area Warden and Forester, Ed Nicholson said: ‘When the shock of seeing what nature can do subsides and you’ve taken stock of the huge task involved in putting things back together again, it’s important to look for opportunities to positively turn the after-effects around to our advantage'.

'As a small countryside team, we needed to be quick to react and adjust our regular plan of work. The storms in the late 1980s taught us how to be efficient in clearing up the trees but also where to consciously leave trees where they’d fallen'.

Valuable habitats

Leaving trees rather than clearing away the debris allows wildlife to move in. The deadwood from fallen trees is an important habitat for bats, rare stag beetles, flies and fungi. A whole series of species will quickly colonise trees once they fall and drive the rotting down process.

Numbers of chiffchaffs, woodlarks and willow warblers are anticipated to increase following the storm as the richer ground cover and uprooted trees provide perfect nesting sites.

Another habitat benefit of storm damage is the increased sunlight caused by gaps created in the tree canopy. Sunlight hitting the open ground promotes the growth of wildflowers such as common dog violet, a vital food plant for the rare pearl bordered fritillary butterfly.

Ed Nicholson said: 'It’s a fantastic opportunity to replant and allow an evolution of new trees to grow up in their place. At Killerton we discovered gaps created by fallen trees have opened up spectacular views across the Exe Valley. The planting season has passed so we have time to carefully consider whether we now fill those gaps, where we establish new trees and the best species to plant'.

Benefitting the community

He added: 'One of the most positive legacies that this storm has left behind is the functional use of timber in our local community. For instance, our local cricket club’s pavilion was in bad repair and they were in the process of replacing it.

Killerton’s beautiful veteran trees claimed by the storm have now supplied our village cricket club with a solid timber frame, beautiful larch cladding and 4,750 western red cedar roof shingles for their new pavilion.'

Timber as a renewable resource

On average 900 tonnes of timber is harvested from Killerton’s home-grown commercial crop each year. 600 tonnes of wind-blown timber was recovered from the estate forming part of Killerton’s annual sustainable harvest.

It's taken over 60 days, including 20 volunteer days to cut and clear it but nothing is going to waste. The timber is a valuable commodity and revenue source for the National Trust estate, to be either sold or milled for building, fencing and wood fuel.

Killerton is also exporting a quantity of its timber overseas. The timber will be shipped from Bideford and used in sawmills in the industrial heartlands of Germany. High grade timber, such as redwood, larch, oak and chestnut will be kept on the estate and used for building projects.