Wednesday 12 February brought hurricane-force winds to Wales, with gusts exceeding 100mph recorded. After a long run of wet weather leading to saturated ground, it was not surprising, therefore, that many trees could not withstand the battering. Denmark Farm was no exception.
On site we have many trees of different ages, including some that have a long history – forming the old boundaries. The bottom of the site has a line of beech trees on a bank. Once upon a time, these were laid as a hedge, but that’s many, many years ago and they have, since then, developed into an impressive row of mature, multi-stemmed trees. They must have been even more impressive when a 35-metre (over 100 feet) stretch of them fell over, taking the whole of the associated bank with them!
Looking at the bank from the other side, it appears to have simply been sliced off. No roots seem to have been severed, demonstrating just how shallow-rooted these particular trees were – extending no deeper than the metre (3-foot) high bank. The trees themselves were about 12-14 metres (36-40 feet tall), so there is a great deal of wood that’s now on the ground. However, not all of the trees that were blown down have made it as far as the ground, and these are much more dangerous:
Jon, one of our wonderful volunteers, arrived to help out, and taped off areas of the site to ensure the safety of visitors (he normally helps out with IT problems):
We have been particularly lucky that no one was injured at Denmark Farm during the storms and that none of the buildings were damaged. And, whilst it seems like a terrible disaster, we must remember that trees do fall over naturally, and without this there would not be the rejuvenation of woodlands.
The loss of some of our large beeches will make way for trees that we planted twenty years ago, which could not reach their full potential under the dense canopy. Not only that, but fallen wood makes a fantastic wildlife habitat. English Nature (Report 513) states that “Deadwood associated invertebrates include the largest number of rare and uncommon species in Britain” and go on to list 147 species that are found in this sort of ‘coarse woody debris’. So, although we will need to clear some of the wood away, and we will want to make use of some of it for firewood, we will certainly be leaving a significant amount in the woodland to enhance the biodiversity of Denmark Farm. Of course, it’s not just invertebrates that will benefit – we should see a sequence of fungal colonisation too as the wood slowly decays.
Fallen trees also allow us a unique insight into habitats that we never usually see. Today, I was able to look into the canopy of a beech tree that would normally be way too high up for me to access. Participants on our courses over the coming months will be able to look, for example, at the mosses and lichens that grow way up in the tops of trees. This really is a rare opportunity.
Interestingly, none of our very large oak trees have come down. The main ‘casualties’ have been beech – which is not, in fact, a species native to this part of the country! Indeed, data provided by the Forestry Commission, suggests that on an intermediate loamy soil, beech will root to a depth of less than 2m (6 feet), compared to oak which will root to a depth of as much as 4m (12 feet). Clearly, our native trees are more firmly anchored!
Whilst we do feel positive about the biodiversity and fuel benefits of this windfall, we are sad to lose some majestic inhabitants of our site. In addition, we will have to pay for professional assistance to make the site safe, cut the wood and transport some of it away from the places it has fallen. If you’d like to contribute to our fund to pay for this, donations would be most welcome: just click the ‘donate’ button on our home page.