Bouncing back from the Great Storm

Published : 12 Oct 2017 Last update : 13 Oct 2017

Back in 1987, 110mph winds raged across southern England. Not only did they disrupt a lot of sleep but the Great Storm also wreaked devastation across vast scores of our woods. Scroll through the gallery above to see how the land has regenerated.

Hundreds of thousands of trees – some aged more than 400 years old - were lost, on 3,000 acres across 58 sites. The landscape had been torn apart, and we faced one of our biggest outdoor repair jobs in history.

‘It was a battle zone’ says gardener Alan Comb, who had started work at Emmetts Garden, Kent, just a week after the storm hit. ‘There were trees sticking up like totem poles’.

Martin Sadler, now a Senior Gardener at Petworth, says, ‘I was only 18 and I’d never seen anything like it before. The trees came down like dominoes.’

The clean-up and new ways of working

During the aftermath of the storm, we took several approaches to managing the devastation and the restoration of woodlands. Some of the ravaged areas were cleared, others were replanted, and non-intervention zones were left alone to regenerate naturally.

In the untouched areas, trees that seeded naturally were allowed to grow and in many cases, are developing faster than those that were planted. This is teaching us valuable lessons about how we can manage the land in our care, while benefitting ecosystems and wildlife. 

Honeysuckle, owls and dormice

Toys Hill lost 98 per cent of its trees in the storm. After the clean-up, some of the areas left alone have flourished spectacularly; the extra light has encouraged dormant seeds to burst into life, including native clematis, honeysuckle and heather - unseen in the area for more than a century.

Birds and dormice also benefited and the woodlark and nightjar population increased. Little owls, tawny owls, buzzards, hobbies and sparrow hawks have also exploited the more open woodland.

We are working to reverse the decline in UK wildlife through active conservation, aiming to restore 25,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat by 2025.

Thirtieth anniversary of the Great Storm  

This October marks thirty years since the Great Storm hit the South East. The National Trust lost of hundreds of thousands of trees across 3,000 acres of land. But it was also a chance to re-evaluate the way we work in the outdoors.

Roisin Black in water at Malham Tarn estate

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