Ancient trees: weathering the great storm

The Great Storm arrived in the early hours of 16 October 1987. Hitting the land in the South West, it travelled north east wreaking havoc. Gas and water supplies were cut, telephone posts were upended and a hundred thousand miles of road were blocked by fallen trees.

The storm had devastating effects for UK trees with 15 million being blown down. Many more trees were injured with some losing limbs or even whole crowns. 

This veteran oak tree on the Isle of Wight lost its canopy in 1987 but has since had a lot of new growth. (Photo: Hilary Higgins / Ancient Tree Inventory)
This veteran oak tree on the Isle of Wight lost its canopy in 1987 but has since had a lot of new growth. (Photo: Hilary Higgins / Ancient Tree Inventory)

Secret of their survival

Despite the devastation, so many of our old knock-kneed trees survived whilst some of their younger counterparts did not.

One of the secrets of their success may be down to the shape of the ancient trees. A small canopy and a hollowing trunk with a wide girth are all characteristics of an ancient tree. And these may have helped the trees weather the storm.

With a smaller canopy there will be less area for the wind to catch. A wider trunk means the tree is more sure-footed and that hollow trunk will allow the tree to bend, rather than break, in the wind.

Hurricane Harvey

Earlier this year, an ancient tree in Texas became an inspiration when it stared down Hurricane Harvey. While its younger neighbours were tipped over by the strong winds the oak, which is known as the Big Tree, stood its ground.

Previous storms

We're fortunate to have so many ancient trees in the UK. These trees are survivors and the great storm would not have been their first test. Some of the best loved trees, such as the Major Oak, Niel Gow’s Oak and the Big Belly Oak, have seen countless storms over the hundreds of years of their lives.

The most destructive storm known to have hit the UK was the tempest of 1703. The storm blew roofs off houses, demolished windmills and caused tidal waves.

Whilst a lot of ancient trees may have proved their sturdiness, events such as the Great Storm take their toll on our tree population. In those millions of trees lost were some of the next generation of ancient and veteran trees.

Find ancient and veteran trees near you.

Ancient Tree Inventory