Growing woodland to withstand storms and gales

Our woods need to change if they are to survive the impacts more storms and gales will have as a result of climate change in the future, says the Royal Forestry Society (RFS).

By Wendy Necar · December 16, 2021

Picture Credit: Helivideo

Measures can be implemented now. They include growing more species suitable for local soils and predicted climate conditions. Changing thinning regimes and introducing structural diversity – different trees of varying heights and ages – should also be considered.

RFS Chief Executive Christopher Williams He says: “Our thoughts go out to all those who have suffered loss or injury as a result of Storms Arwen and Barra. These events underline why we must be thinking now about how we minimise windthrow risk in the future.

“In past centuries we planned and grew our woodland believing the environment was stable. We now know there is a likelihood of increasingly frequent and severe gales under predicted climate change scenarios for the UK. We must therefore plan and manage our woodland differently to future proof not just against windblow events but against the spread of pests and diseases carried on the wind.”

Woodland in England typically relies on a small number of key species. Five conifer species account for 88% of the softwood forests and five broadleaf species make up over 72% of the hardwood woodland resource. Many are grown in monoculture.

For those restocking woodland after trees have blown down, Christopher Williams says there is an opportunity to add structural and species diversity into woods. Such moves would lessen the chances of storms toppling whole areas of single age/single height trees, leaving nothing standing. Depending on management objectives, considering continuous cover forestry, introducing shorter rotations or earlier thinning might also help adapt existing woods.

Those planting new woodland to meet Government tree cover targets should incorporate storm proofing into their forest design and operational planning. This should include a diversity of species planted at different ages to ensure that the woodland matures over time rather than at one point in the future.

The Forestry Commission is urging those with damage from Storm Arwen report it using a new citizens science portal  or  eAlert. Their own guide Managing England’s Woodlands in a Climate Change emergency points towards the benefits of age structure and stand structure diversity.

As well as damage in the woodland, a number of people are killed or injured by falling trees every year. All woodland owners should be aware of legal considerations under The Occupiers Liability Act and The Health and Safety at Work etc Act. These are summed up in a QJF James Cup Award Winning Article by Nick Bolton here

Early indications from surveys carried out by Forestry Commission staff suggest that more than 1000ha of woodland is likely to have been blown down and potentially in excess of 0.5million m3 of timber damaged.

A new citizen science application has been launched to identify potential areas of windblown conifer trees following the devasting impact of Storm Arwen. Further information can be found here.

Alternatively report damage usinge eAlert.

Dealing with windblown trees is a difficult and potentially dangerous. High levels of technical skill and the right PPE, equipment and machinery are needed. The Forestry Industry Safety Accord (FISA) provides valuable information.

A felling licence is not required to fell trees that are no longer growing such as those uprooted and blown over or snapped by the wind or are dead or dangerous.

Standing trees within an area of windblow will require a felling licence, if not otherwise exempt because they are, for example, dead or dangerous.

Full details of the exemptions available and how to apply for a felling licence here.

If it is no longer possible for you to continue to manage the woodland in the way described in this agreement because of windblow contact the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) and your Woodland Officer. Force majeure may apply.

Whilst the clearance of trees that have blown flat may not require a felling licence, but any subsequent conversion of that woodland or part of that woodland to another land use (such as an agricultural field) is subject to the Forestry EIA regulations in most situations.