After three named storms in the space of a month (Brendan, Ciara and Dennis), and plenty of wet and windy weather in between, the New Forest is currently looking a bit battered in places. Fieldwork is certainly tough going, with high stream levels and many rides and trails (particularly those underlain by clay soils) becoming impassable without decent wellies!
The saturated soils and incessant strong winds are certainly taking their toll on trees in the forest, and I’ve seen large numbers of fallen mature Beech trees in particular. Although many have been uprooted at the base (as pictured below), I’ve also seen plenty that have split a metre or two up, leaving behind spectacular pillars of splintered wood. I wouldn’t be surprised if several thousand trees have come down in the last month, with many limbs, branches, twigs and lichens also becoming dislodged.
All this arboreal carnage has a silver lining, however, as the decaying wood is mostly left in situ and provides opportunities for fungi and various invertebrates, while the light provided by openings in the canopy allows new saplings and plants to colonise, protected from foraging ponies and deer by the tangled masses of downed branches.
Today, while cycling up to Bolderwood for our monthly Woodland Bird Survey (more on that tomorrow), I encountered this Oak tree that had evidently just come down, despite the winds having moderated in the last few days since Storm Dennis passed through. It provided an opportunity to get a close view of the mosses and polypody ferns that often grow on mature Oak trees in the New Forest. These ferns are epiphytic, meaning they are plants that grow on other plants or trees, and they are more typically associated with the wetter and more humid western regions of the UK.
The tree had crushed an inclosure fence and brought down some overhead wires, but by the time I returned four hours later the route had been efficiently cleared. Thumbs up to the Forestry England beat keepers, rangers and contractors, who must have had a busy few weeks clearing roads and patching up fences!