The Fool on the Hill: The Storm

The Storm

Storm damage in the wood I did not expect the storm of the night of Friday 26th November to be exceptionally severe. I was aware that there was going to be a storm, and aware that the wind was expected to peak at a strength which rates as 'violent storm' on the Beaufort Scale. But such events are not actually that rare here. I made some preparations - I did close the cattle shed doors, for example, and fully fastened down the last new panel on the north side of the roof.

I thought of moving the stack of panels for the south side of the roof, that had not yet been installed, into the wood for safekeeping, but it would have been a lot of work and I very fortunately did not do it.

I went across to my friend Rob for a curry on Friday night, and although the wind was strong there was no difficulty in walking upright. I returned home about seven, and settled down wait it out.

This house is remarkably sound-insulated. I could hear the storm. And I could hear things falling occasionally onto the roof, and simply assumed that the new steel cladding on the north face made these a lot louder (which was of course partly true). But it didn't feel exceptionally bad until I went out about eleven for a wee check for damage and found that, immediately behind the house literally all the trees were down.

Obviously, in the dark and with that barrier, I couldn't get any further. I did see that trees had fallen onto the roof of the house, and I did see that very large trees immediately north of the house were unstable. There was obviously risk of them coming down, in which case the risk of severe damage to the house was obviously high.

But there still wasn't anything useful I could do but wait it out, so I went back to bed and eventually slept. The cats slept with me, so I knew that they were OK.

All you can now see out of my bedroom window is wreck, but beyond the wreck are standing trees. My initial assessment was that I had probably just lost a small patch of the wood behind the house. When I'd got dressed and gone out to make an initial assessment, that was still my impression.

In the dawn gloaming, I saw first one chicken, then two, then three, and finally all the chickens - all alive, all apparently uninjured. I made breakfast, and then went out for a more thorough check. I went first north towards the Summer Palace glade - the Summer Palace was the tree house in which I lived the first year after we bought the farm, I rode out a worse storm actually in the Summer Palace. I was fairly confident it would be fine.

It was not. All the trees were down, and the treehouse, obviously, smashed. I got round to the north edge of the wood - where I found that even the fence between the wood and Commons Meadow had been destroyed - but it was too difficult and dangerous to go further so I went back to the house, did some tidying up. My assessment at that stage was that I'd lost between 10% and 20% of the wood. I then went up to check on the wind turbine, the cattle shed, and the cattle, all of which were fine. The toolshed isn't, however; it's lost its roof.

I should be out there right now rescuing my precious tools because it is snowing, but I'm not.

I went on to visit neighbours and check they were OK, but fortunately only one other person around me has had significant damage and that was "only" a ten metre by four metre shed rolled completely over. However, everyone else locally is dependent on mains electricity, and the mains electricity was off, which explained why my communications weren't working.

Back home, I made a first attempt so walk right round the damage patch. About a third of the wood on the western edge is still standing - apart from a small area of damage in the south west corner from a storm about four years ago. Nothing has actually fallen on the extreme south edge of the wood, which is a relief because I wouldn't want to have to negotiate with the rancher who now owns Stockmoss to the south of me just now. Most of the trees along the extreme eastern edge of the wood are still standing, apart from a patch which came down in a storm three winters ago. My assessment then was that I'd lost 25% or maybe 30% of the wood.

But the damage area extends from the north edge of the wood to within ten metres of the south edge, and there's nowhere more than five metres width of trees still standing along the east edge. There are at least a thousand trees down, and frankly it could easily be double that.

Worse, the remainder of the wood must now be considered unstable. While this is by far the worst, it's the third storm in five years which has caused substantial damage. So while I now think that, counting trees which are down and trees which are merely dangerous, I've lost between 33% and 50% of the wood, I have in practice lost all of it.

I think probably that the sensible thing to do will be to get a contractor in to harvest all the remaining standing timber. That will probably - but I need to check this - wash it's face: I'd probably get enough money for the timber to pay the contractor. There might even be some left over. But that isn't the case for the fallen trees. They're dangerous, and they will be more expensive to extract than they're worth as timber.

One can look at a best case scenario here. Because they've all fallen north-south, it will be possible to winch them out into commons meadow. I'm going to end up with at least several hundred spruce logs, some of them pretty big. It will be a huge amount of labour, of course; but it can be my labour, which doesn't actually cost me. I've always wanted to have some guest accommodation, and a log cabin now becomes definitely possible.

But, there are very major problems. It's a miracle that the house is undamaged, but the trees around it are no longer protected by other trees, so the risk of one of them falling onto the house and causing severe damage is high. But more than that: the cladding on the house isn't weather proof. It didn't need to be, because the house was surrounded by trees so it was never exposed to driving rain. And the roof isn't anchored down. Again, it didn't need to be, because the house was surrounded by trees...

Well, now it isn't.

The anchoring problem isn't hard to fix, but the cladding problem really will be.

And I really need to think about whether this is end-game; whether it is, in fact, game over.

For the past year I've been sort of not really coping with the problems of keeping cattle. I have twice as many cattle as my land will really carry, I've been needing to sell half of them for more than a year, I haven't done it. Part of that is lack of energy, part is lack of money: although I've built a good cattle handling system around the cattle shed, I haven't yet been able to build a stockade in which I can catch them. And, in a year, I haven't managed to tempt the right animals into the shed when I needed to.

I'm now faced with a huge new set of problems; the old ones have not gone away. Can I do this? Well, no, honestly. I don't think I can.

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