Remembering the Great Storm of 1987

The Great Storm of 1987 was the worst to hit England in nearly three hundred years. 

The 100mph winds that battered the south and east of the country on October 16 left a trail of devastation in their wake claiming 19 lives, destroying buildings and infrastructure and blowing down 15 million trees.

The Forestry Commission played a major role in the storm clear-up operation both on the public forest estate and by offering advice and support to other woodland owners. Now twenty years on, we can look back and assess the impact on the country's trees and woodlands.

Much of the worst damage occurred in the timber forests, where conifer plantations did not have the root system to stand up to the extreme winds. In Suffolk, an unprecedented challenge faced foresters, and with much of the timber being pine the race was on to recover the wood before it was damaged by bark beetles and fungi, which would make it unsaleable. At Rendlesham there were 400,000

felled trees, at Tunstall 300,000 and 260,000 at Dunwich - 475,000 cubic metres all requiring clearing - equivalent to 13 years wood supply all at once - enoughto fill 130 Olympic swimming pools.

One of the remarkable stories of the Great Storm was the creation of a massive wet timber storage facility in Norfolk. A disused gravel pit near Thetford became home to 70,000 cubic metres of pine logs stored between March 1988 and July 1992. This storage enabled the timber to be saved from deterioration, and also allowed timber markets to stabilise before releasing the timber flow onto the market.

While damage to trees on the public forest estate was considerable, it was only 25% of the total damage. Three quarters of the impact directly hit other woodland owners, from farmers and private estates, to larger organisations like the National Trust, and local authorities. 

Within a few days of the Storm the Forestry Commission established a Forest Windblow Action Committee, which brought together Timber Growers UK, the British Timber Merchants Association, the UK Wood Processors Association. The Committee developed an action plan to deal with the effects of the storm on woodlands.

Member of Tree Council

A Task Force was also set up at the Forest Research station at Alice Holt to provide a comprehensive information and advisory service to woodland owners and the timber trade.

First published in CJS Focus on Trees and Hedges in association with The Tree Council, for National Tree Week on 19 November 2007