Mark Wardle, Head Ranger on the Slindon Estate

Thousands of trees on the historic Slindon Estate were crushed by the wind as the Great Storm crashed through West Sussex. Now Head Ranger Mark Wardle was part of the team that led the recovery in the years that followed.

I began working on the Slindon Estate eighteen months after the Great Storm hit. Even after this time had passed, the damage was still clear to see.

" It was like someone had taken a box of matches and tipped it up on the floor. There was no real rhyme or reason to it. I’d never seen such a mess in my life."
- Mark Wardle

I always remember my colleague Charlie Cain, who still works in the South Downs, telling me how he walked across Park Wood in the days that followed. “It should have been a 20 minute walk” he says, “but that day it took two-and-a-half hours of climbing through and under trees. I was in tears.”  

In the wake of the storm

The forestry team, comprised of National Trust foresters and contractors, used chainsaws and harvesters to clear the mess from the paths and roads. Park Wood was the area most affected. It took days, weeks, months and even years to try and get some sense of restoration - but we all knew it would never be the same again.

Ancient beech trees, planted by Slindon’s eighteenth century owners, were the main casualties. The trees had been planted closely together to encourage tall straight growth. The roots weren't embedded strongly in the ground, due to the shallow layer of soil overlaying the chalk. 

An aerial shot of Slindon, after the Great Storm of 1987
An aerial shot of Slindon, after the Great Storm of 1987
An aerial shot of Slindon, after the Great Storm of 1987
The view from Park Lane a few months after the storm and current view
The view from Park Lane a few months after the storm and current view
The view from Park Lane a few months after the storm and current view

Wildlife responds

In the days immediately after the storm, wildlife would have been in absolute furore. Any scent trails would have been difficult to follow, song perches lost and roost trees destroyed.

However, quite quickly – within two or three years – the woods turned purple with foxgloves. Hazel dormice and a rare false click beetle have both benefitted from new habitats, mainly deadwood.

Barbastelle bats use features in the trees created by the storm to roost, such as broken branches.

Scars of the storm

Stacked logs a few months after the storm and the view today of Park Lane
Stacked logs a few months after the storm and the view today of Park Lane
Stacked logs a few months after the storm and the view today of Park Lane

There are still massive tree rootplates lying where they fell on the estate. Many of these have birch and sycamore trees growing from them, where they regenerated with the new light coming in from the canopy.

In the landscape you can see a few trees rising randomly above the others - these are the only ones that survived in this area of woodland.

Though we carried out extensive replanting after the storm, the trees that grew naturally continue to perform as well as those that were planted.

For me, nature always knows what’s best. It’s important to learn from this and apply it to the way we work with natural processes in years to come.