Martin Sadler, Senior Gardener at Petworth

Martin Sadler, Senior Gardener at Petworth

The Great Storm that devastated England’s south coast left a 245-year-old Lebanon cedar tree strewn across the grounds of historic Petworth Mansion. Martin Sadler, now a Senior Gardener at Petworth, planted 10,000 trees as part of the recovery.

" I slept through that night; I didn’t hear the storm at all. The next morning, when I drove into the park it was completely devastated. We lost 750 trees, some in excess of 300 years old. "
- Martin Sadler

I was only 18 and I’d never seen anything like it before. The trees came down like dominoes.

Amongst those that fell was a 245-year-old Lebanon cedar tree, which was planted eight years before Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown arrived here. It was one of West Sussex’s oldest trees, but it was ripped right out of the ground.

Doric Temple at Petworth amid the destruction after the Great Storm
Doric Temple at Petworth amid the destruction after the Great Storm

Fallen timber piled 40 feet high around the estate.

For about three months after, we had contractors in from Dorset living in a caravan onsite. They had to use heavy machinery to clear the fallen trees.  

Doric Temple surrounded by fallen trees in 1987 and present day
Doric Temple surrounded by fallen trees in 1987 and present day

Moving on after the storm

In the aftermath of the storms, we planted 25,000 trees. Following guidelines issued by the Forestry Commission, they were planted very close together – just two metres apart.

Some of the 25,000 trees planted after the storm as they stand today
Some of the 25,000 trees planted after the storm as they stand today

In hindsight, this wasn’t the best approach as it didn’t give the trees room to make root. We’re now thinning these trees, removing the weaker specimens to give the stronger ones more space. I think we’ll probably be doing it for at least another ten years.

It’s helping to future-proof the estate from extreme weather. Allowing room for the wind to reach each tree helps them build a tolerance to the wind by growing stronger roots.

A delicate balance

Not all of the trees that fell were cleared. The huge sweet chestnut trunk on the ground (shown in first photo with Martin) fell during the storm, but it’s only just beginning to hollow.

This is because it’s not a native tree species, so native bugs and invertebrates have taken longer to eat into the wood. We can tell from the rings that it’s around three to five hundred years old.

I personally planted 10,000 trees in the Pleasure Grounds after the storm. There were ten different varieties including English oak, beech, lime and yew trees.

It feels strange now to be thinning these out after such extensive efforts – but learning and adapting our approach to woodland management is a key part of looking after Petworth.