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It's an ill wind

By Rebecca Audsley, Farming For a Better Climate Project Lead, SAC Consulting

Farmers have always worked with the weather, but our changing climate adds another layer of complexity to deal with.  At the time of writing, Scotland had seen four named winter storms in the space of three month, resulting in significant damage to buildings, forests, power and telecoms infrastructure, travel disruption, and also, sadly, loss of life.

The first of these named storms, Storm Arwen in November 2021, left substantial damage in its wake to forests and woodlands in Scotland.  Estimates suggest approximately one million cubic metres of timber was blown over, with the impact further exacerbated by early 2022 storms Malik and Corrie.

Generic guidance messages such as conducting tree safety surveys to identify and prune/remove problem trees prior to storms occurring, still hold, and could reduce the risk of future damage, but what to do when faced with significant tree loss due to windblow on your land?

SAC Consulting's Senior Forestry Consultant Ben Law advises that safety is the priority; trees affected by windblow are inherently dangerous and sometimes have the added danger of bringing down utility lines.  Damaged power cables can be re-energised without warning or remain live, and high voltage can arc significant distances.  If you see damaged utility lines (even if these appear "dead"), call the electricity emergency number 105 and remain at a safe distance.  Storm damaged trees are often under significant compression or tension forces, entangled in other blown trees and may contain suspended debris, further creating a hazardous situation.  Removal of windblow should only be undertaken by trained, experienced and insured operators, so seek professional assistance.

Ben also notes that Felling Permissions are still required for windblown trees in Scotland; Scottish Forestry fast-tracked approval for windblow caused by Storm Arwen, mindful of the need for urgency when salvaging timber before it degrades beyond unmerchantable condition.

With climate change projections suggesting an increase in 'extreme weather event intensity', alongside milder and wetter winters and hotter and drier summers, it might pay to consider how we can better prepare.  For more information, see our Adapting to Climate Change pages and on our social media @SACFarm4Climate.  Scotland's Farm Advisory Service (FAS) at www.fas.scot has more information around the impact of storms on our woodlands and links to Scottish Forestry guidance.

This article from Farming for a Better Climate was first published in the Farming Scotland Magazine in March 2022.