The Great Storm of 1987: 30 years on

Tree damage from the Great Storm of 1987

In the early hours of the morning on 16 October 1987, hurricane force winds devastated homes, woods and gardens in its path. Around the country, 58 National Trust places in 13 counties were affected, with more than 350,000 trees lost.

More than 600 trees lost at Ickworth

In the East of England, with more than 600 trees lost in the woodlands, Ickworth in Suffolk was the worst affected National Trust place. Of those 600 trees, around 380 were larch with the remainder being a mix of oak, ash and sycamore.

Hand-written reports of the devastation were made at the time, and record that in the gardens, six ceders were felled by the winds, with chestnut and oak trees adding to the list.

In the walled garden, a tulip tree, oak and yew were all lost, whilst the Albana Walk was littered with the debris of around 60 fallen ash, Corsican pines and oaks.

Elsewhere in Suffolk, the Great Storm's effect on an area of Pin Mill would have lasting consequences.

" The storm hit just a month after the National Trust had taken on the care of an area of Pin Mill that was home to a plantation of Scots and Corsican pines."
- David Piper

Having bought the land to help provide an ongoing supply of timber, little did the local team expect to be clearing up a substantial amount of felled trees just a few weeks later.

Replacement trees were eventually planted but then these succumbed to drought, before a third crop of fresh trees were lost to severe frosts. It was at this point that the National Trust decided to change plans and instead of planting for a fourth time, to manage the site as heathland. 

A scene of devastation...

At Sheringham in Norfolk, the October storm came just a few months after the park had come into the care of the National Trust, having welcomed its first visitors that spring. Countryside Manager Keith Zealand had just one trainee ranger to help him clear the fallen trees that covered pathways and access routes.

Across the park, several small plantations of trees suffered heavy losses. Specimens included a Tree of Heaven as well as oaks, sycamore and ash in the parkland. A large number of mature beech were lost from what was then the car park as well as half an acre of larch.

One sorrel tree that broke from the main trunk still survives today and has been particularly unusual in that a new trunk grew from the broken wood, whilst the existing trunk survived and still lives as part of the tree today, growing along the ground.

A sorrel tree in Sheringham Park which broke from the main trunk survives today following the Great Storm of 1987
Sheringham Park Sorrel Tree
A sorrel tree in Sheringham Park which broke from the main trunk survives today following the Great Storm of 1987

Blickling in Norfolk was one of the last areas badly hit, with 265 trees lost the night of the storm. Assistant head gardener, Stephen Hagon, describes 'a scene of devastation' as he shares his memories of the events of 30 years ago.


Heart breaking scenes

Stephen, who has been a gardener at Blickling for 45 years, didn’t make it into Blickling until lunchtime that day and the scene that faced him was heart breaking. Stephen shares his memories of that day and the clear-up operation that followed.

Significant losses...

At Hatfield Forest in Essex, the ancient medieval hunting forest sustained losses in pockets of landscape across hundreds of acres.

Reports from the time indicated some areas that lost just a dozen hornbeam and oak trees, whilst elsewhere, around two acres of field maple, oak and hornbeam were lost.
Access to the forest was limited whilst essential safety checks were carried out, an approach that is still taken by the National Trust here and at other places following periods of heavy winds. With thousands of trees to look after, the team at Hatfield have their work cut out at these times. 

Experience our places today
Poster for WoodFest 2019

Hatfield Forest

Ancient royal hunting forest

Sunset over the river orwell

Pin Mill

Discover a peaceful woodland and heathland alive with the colours and fruits of autumn. Take in the tranquility of the wooded foreshore and savour the spectacular views of the River Orwell.