The Toys Hill exclusion zone

The exclusion zone at Toys Hill, Kent

Thirty years ago this October, the Great Storm caused extensive damage to woodland right across South East England. Restoration post-Storm was extensive, but in a forward-thinking move at Toys Hill, Kent, a small ‘exclusion zone’ was put in place and left to recover naturally. It continues to teach us important lessons about woodland management today.

Toys Hill covers 93 acres of woodland at the highest point in Kent. Between 2am and 6am on the morning of 16 October 1987, winds here reached up to 110mph. Up to 98 per cent of Toys Hill’s trees were lost on the plateau, around 90 per cent of which were beech. 

The place that inspired Octavia Hill to found the National Trust became a scene of devastation.

The recovery effort began straightaway. Much of the devastated areas at Toys Hill were cleared, with some left open and others replanted. 

Amongst the devastation, the storm provided us with the opportunity to learn more about the natural resilience and recovery of our woodland. To enable comparisons to be drawn, an ‘exclusion zone’ was put in place, and left alone to regenerate entirely naturally. 

The exclusion zone

The exclusion zone covers around twenty hectares. It sits in Scords Wood, 230m above sea level to the north east of Toys Hill’s summit. 

Trees that fell in the Storm still lie on the ground, and bracken has been allowed to flourish.

Trees that fell in the storm still lie on the ground
The exclusion zone at Toys Hill, Kent
Trees that fell in the storm still lie on the ground

New trees that seeded naturally have been allowed to grow and, in many cases, are developing faster than those that were planted. 

‘It’s a bit wilder and there’s more deadwood’ says area ranger Chris Heels.

Light allowed in by the removal of so much of the canopy caused dormant seeds to burst into life, including native clematis, honeysuckle and heather (unseen in the area for more than a century).

Learning for the future

The exclusion zone has provided the opportunity to make stark comparisons against areas that were re-planted and managed. 

" As a conservation charity, we’re always learning. The storm was no different. It provided a chance to re-evaluate the way we work in the outdoors and manage our woodlands."
- Tom Hill, Trees & Woodland Officer

Today, the Trust works more closely with natural ecological processes and, where possible, will allow damaged woodland to regenerate naturally as in the exclusion zone. 

Tom continues, 'The National Trust looks after more than 25,000 hectares (62,000 acres) of woodland, 36% of which is in London and the South East. It’s vital that we continue to evolve our approach to woodland management to help it to thrive.'