Estimated impact of October 2013's St Jude storm

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

storm1The Forestry Commission has at the end of November 2013 released figures for the estimated impact of the St Jude storm of October 2013, revealing that 64% of the 100,000+ woodlands across southern England (from Cornwall to Suffolk) were likely to have been affected in some way but that very few woodlands are expected to suffer long term damage. More damage was found between Wiltshire and Kent with little or no damage recorded at the south-west and north-east extremes of the survey area.

Most damaged trees are very likely to be left where they are and will turn in to valuable dead wood habitats for wildlife. The woodlands are expected to readily recover from localized damage without seriously affecting local woodland and timber businesses and there could even be a benefit to wildlife conservation as the dead and dying trees provide additional food sources and breeding habitats for flora and fauna such as lichens, fungi, invertebrates, birds and small mammals.

The Forestry Commission’s National Incident Management Team organized a survey of over 160 woodlands over two weeks, searching for trees blown over or snapped and looking at damage to their crowns to assess overall woodland damage. Although around 70,000 woods were affected by the storm, the level of damage within the vast majority of these woods is reported as being low, with crown damage the highest at 3.7% of all trees across the storm area, but these trees will recover from that damage. 1% of larger trees across the storm area were blown over, plus another 0.5% snapped around halfway up the trunk, amounting to approx 10 million (out of approx 660 million) trees 'lost' from the woodlands. The loss however will be more than compensated for by the younger trees that will benefit from the gaps created in the canopy. Woodland flowers will also benefit from the increased light getting to the woodland floor.

While leaving the fallen wood where it is to provide additional food sources and breeding habitats for flora and fauna such as lichens, fungi, invertebrates, birds and small mammals, “for the wildlife”, as some greenies always demand, it saddens me to see valuable wood being left to rot. We are rather, it would appear, importing wood and wood products from abroad than using such timber as our woods provide, even when it is but storm felled timber.

There is a case for leaving some wood to decay to benefit fungi and such but anything that is usable and reclaimable should not be left as it is not good for the environment, especially not as far as greenhouse gas release is, concerned. The wood dying releases not only the carbon (carbon dioxide) stored during the tree's lifetime but also and this is far more dangerous, methane in its decaying process with methane being many times (up to forty times) more dangerous a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

In the last couple of years, because of lack of firewood from British sources, we have imported logs for firewood from as far afield as Poland, the Ukraine and Western Russia and this certainly does not for sustainable energy make. While, as the same time, we insist to leave wood too rot in British woods and forests to benefit the wildlife which, while decaying, actually is a greater hazard to the environment than would be the burning of the wood. This does appear to be a fact, however, that is very difficult to get into the heads of those opposed to the removal of timber from the woods and from parklands.

Important it is also to remember that if the fallen timber is large enough to be converted into wood products that will remain “alive” for many years, decades and maybe longer than that even, that the carbon originally sequestered by the tree will be locked up for as long as the product exists and this is a real benefit to the environment.

When I was a youngster at about eight years of age when I began my career in forestry there was a “clean forest floor” policy and all debris, bar the small twigs and branches, was used or burned and we had a greater diversity of wildlife, including fungi and lichens than we seem to have today with the about of timber being left to rot. The one thing we had less off of what we have too much today was tree diseases. Should that tell us, maybe, something?

The wood that has come down in the St Jude storm, in the same way as wood that comes down in any other storm, should, as far as possible be put to use, and if only as firewood. Ideally it should be made into wood products, however, that will keep any carbon locked in for long as the product exists.

Nowadays especially where people want to have, once again, wooden utensils in their kitchen and wooden products of all kinds in their homes (and elsewhere) it is important that we make use of as much home-grown wood as possible and that does include storm-damaged trees and timber.

Let's get back to some proper use and management of our woodlands and forests and maybe, just maybe, we will also conquer a few other things, including the tree diseases that have begun to spread. Bringing back our forests nurseries to raise trees at home also is part of that as is the removal of diseased wood.

© 2013