Ancient trees brace themselves against the weather

Brian Muelaner is the National Trust’s Ancient Tree Advisor (@NTancienttrees). Here he explains how the recent weather has affected our ancient trees.

We’ve heard all about the incredible storms which have battered the coast in the South West and Wales over recent months, causing devastation in their wake.  We have seen some of the most dramatic images showing the enormous combined power of wind and wave. And we’ve witnessed the effects of staggering amounts of rain causing flooding, the destruction of railways, landslips and the tragic loss of irreplaceable personal belongings and the heartache this has caused.

What’s less well recorded are the accumulative effects from the continued rain and wind on some of our most significant trees. National Trust properties have been recording the heaviest tree losses since the great storms of 1987 and 1990. Although the tree losses are nowhere near as bad, it is none the less very significant.

Properties are losing some of their most important parkland trees, which are several hundred years old, through a combination of high winds tearing trees apart and saturated soils reducing the trees’ ability to anchor themselves against the punishing winds.

Significant losses

007 Totally shattered hornbeam (2)

Over a dozen properties in the south and west have reported tragic losses. Cases such as the 300 hundred year old beech trees at Dinefwr in Wales, Trelissick in Cornwall’s loss of three old lime, several mature oak and two very old scots pine and Kingston Lacy, which has lost mature cedars, oaks and beech in the parkland.

The saddest individual losses so far recorded have been two ancient ash trees believed to be approximately 400 years old, one at Stourhead in Wiltshire and the other at Penbryn in Wales.

Ash trees of this age are very rare and of national significance.  As they had been able to live considerably longer than the vast majority of ash trees they might have had a natural immunity to Ash Dieback which is threatening all of our ash trees in Europe.

Ancient trees could be the breeding stock for future generations. Their survival shows them to be more resistant to the various pests and diseases which have killed their cohorts at much younger ages.

A silver lining?

Hopefully we will soon be returning to drier, calmer weather.  The clean-up and repairs to the battered coastal towns and villages will take months or years to repair, while the fallen and damaged trees, if left untidied, will actually improve with age.

As decay fungi slowly break down the wood, rare specialist invertebrates will colonise the decayed wood creating a rich and valuable habitat for decades to come.

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