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21 Nov 2022

Storm damage: one year on

A very large fallen tree lies on the snowy ground, with its huge root plate exposed. A lady in a warm coat and bobble hat stands next to it.
Crathes Castle lost giant tree specimens as a result of Storm Arwen in November 2021
With the anniversary of Storm Arwen fast approaching this month and that of Storm Corrie coming in close succession, our gardens and designed landscape teams have been hard at work to tackle the devastation left by some of Scotland’s most damaging weather events in recent history.

The brutal impact of Storm Arwen in November 2021 and Storm Corrie in January 2022, was felt across vast swathes of the country, felling tens of thousands of trees throughout the North East, the Highlands, and Argyll and Bute. The storms devastated hundreds of acres of natural heritage – the equivalent of 20 Murrayfield Stadiums.

Since then, our gardeners, landscape managers and rangers – working alongside specialist contractors – have been tackling the aftermath to clear damaged and fallen trees, improve accessibility to woodland trails, and ensure the safety of our staff and visitors at our properties and countryside places. As the work at various sites progresses, a programme of replanting will take place to aid the recovery of these woodlands and replenish their eco-systems that are home to a variety of flora and fauna.

To continue this valuable work, we have launched a new fundraising appeal to help with replanting decimated woodlands affected by the storms. The Tree Appeal launched this month is asking for donations of £7.50 to help replant over half a million tree saplings. Trees are a vital natural resource in the fight against climate change. With a tree’s ability to store up to 1 tonne of carbon throughout its lifetime, it is more crucial than ever to undertake replanting on a huge scale, to help reduce global temperatures and limit the occurrence of extreme weather events in future.

The Tree Appeal will also help to repopulate woodlands with native trees that provide shelter for rare species such as the red squirrel, capercaillie and wild cats. A mix of native broadleaf trees such as oak, rowan and pine will be planted, with each property having a tailored planting plan based on its original woodlands which also takes predicted climate change considerations into account. This will ensure that we are planting for the future, building resilient woodlands and habitats for generations to come.

Chris Wardle, Gardens and Designed Landscape Manager for the North East, provided an update on the work that donations to the Tree Appeal will help to support.

‘Work is underway to fell and clear large areas of the country that were affected by the storms at the start of this year and in late 2021. It is estimated that over 125 hectares of woodlands have been affected in the North East alone, which demonstrates the severity and scale of the damage sustained and underlines how important the tree appeal is to raise funds for the work to continue and help to reinstate these woodlands.

‘Measuring the areas affected by the storms was the first obstacle due to the sheer vastness of the properties and countryside places in the Trust’s care. We carried out walking surveys to pinpoint areas of severe damage and this was enhanced by using drones to survey larger areas to distinguish pockets of woodland that bore the brunt of the harsh weather. We worked in close partnership with Scottish Forestry, and Forestry and Land Scotland, to get the necessary permissions for the felling and clearing work to take place. Woodland management is closely monitored and regulated and so we have to adhere to a number of conditions before any progress can be made.

‘In keeping with our conservation goals we take a coordinated and sensitive approach to wildlife management, as our woodlands are home to a number of different species including badgers, herons, squirrels and bats, to name just a few. We worked in tandem with the Trust’s team of rangers to survey the wildlife in the affected places, to identify nesting sites and areas to avoid. To ensure the safety of the wildlife we set up protected zones to avoid further disturbance of their natural habitats before work got underway.

An aerial view of a large estate with an extensive area of flattened woodland in the foreground. Many trees are lying on the ground and resting on others. In the background a walled garden can just be made out.
The damage to the woodland at Drum after Storm Arwen

‘So far, the woodland clearance has been completed at Pitmedden where we have reopened the site to the public after ensuring that it was safe to do so. At Drum Castle we are making steady progress with over 6,000 tonnes of timber cleared from the site already. We are only a fraction of the way through, and we estimate there could be as much as 12,000–20,000 tonnes of timber by the time we’re finished. We’re putting the timber, tree stumps and brash (tree branches stripped during felling) to good use by selling this to the biomass industry to produce energy so none of it will go to waste.

‘Work is underway at places like Fyvie and Crathes Castle, and we expect that to be completed by Christmas. We have been working at Craigievar Castle for the last 3 months and are only a quarter of the way through, which shows the extent of the damage inflicted by the storms. We expect the work will take around 7 months to complete. This is made slightly easier with the closure of the property due to important conservation work happening at the castle, which is taking place over the next 18 months.

‘One of the main challenges we have faced so far is the lack of contractors across the country; we have had to bring in people from the wider UK to undertake the work to ensure we stick to our timescales. We have a limited time window to be able to complete felling and clearing due to the breeding and hibernating seasons of a number of different wild species such as squirrels. We can’t start felling until after September when their breeding period finishes and have to finish before they start hibernating around Christmas time, so there really is a finite time period for when the work can happen, which adds another layer of complexity to the process.

‘Although timescales are tight, we carefully manage each project considering the challenges presented by the terrain of the landscapes at each location, which can be tricky for equipment such as the tree harvesting machines to negotiate at times. The speed of the machine makes up for lost time however, making light work of massive trees – some standing at 100 feet high! One of the harder obstacles to navigate is public access in general. Safety is our number one priority and so we install signage to advise members of the public of the dangers, and we would encourage them to take note of hazards and avoid these areas to ensure no one is hurt as a result.

‘When the sites are cleared, we can make fast progress at planting new saplings, with teams of planters putting them in the ground by hand at a rapid pace and up to 1000 saplings planted per day. Replanting has already started and we expect this work will continue into next year. Planting on a large scale like this will help to replenish tree stock, encourage natural woodland regeneration and reinstate the trees as a vital defence in our efforts to tackle climate change. We have used sophisticated environmental selection tools and climate change modelling data to ‘bio-design’ the woodlands, futureproofing them by planting native species that will be able to adapt to the growing threats from disease, pathogens and rising global temperatures. Increased temperatures raise the dangers of destructive species of foreign insects, known as vectors, taking hold by making the Scottish climate more hospitable for them and we want to avoid this from having a devastating impact on our woodlands in the future.

‘There is an incredible amount of effort going into this from teams across the Trust and I would personally like to thank everyone for their hard work and determination in making this happen.’

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