Forestry’s getting back on its feet after Storm Arwen - Andy Leitch

It's been two months since Storm Arwen battered Scotland – but the impact on forests in some areas will continue for decades.

Andy Leitch is Deputy Chief Executive of Confor: promoting forestry and wood
Andy Leitch is Deputy Chief Executive of Confor: promoting forestry and wood

Millions of trees were blown over, or snapped, in this once-in-a-generation weather event. It stunned even the most experienced foresters, who had to completely rethink detailed plans for managing their woodlands.

Will Anderson, a Confor Board member and Chief Executive of Seafield & Strathspey Estates, put it like this: “After 35 years working in forestry, I’ve seen plenty of storm damage. But Storm Arwen was something else.”

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Arwen cut a destructive path through huge parts of Scotland. Especially badly affected were Aberdeenshire, Angus and Perthshire, while another swathe ran through East Lothian and the Scottish Borders into Dumfries & Galloway.

Paths and tracks blocked by fallen trees are still being cleared, while aerial photography, satellite imagery and on-ground observation is being carefully and constantly analysed to understand the best way to handle the storm's impacts.

The forestry industry has worked with the public forest bodies to create an app, which allows satellite data to be validated on the ground. This information is shared, to decide where trees need to be removed safely and quickly – and which wood processors might take them.

Our industry supply chain is carefully-planned and when so many trees fall in an unexpected way, it creates challenges. An estimated 1.5 million tonnes of timber was brought down in Scotland – 20 per cent of the annual planned timber harvest in one storm!

Latest estimates suggest six-eight million trees were blown over, or snapped by Arwen. When the tree snaps, it creates additional problems. It can take more time to deal with and its value is reduced, as Scotland's sawmills want long, straight logs – especially for use in construction. This is important; more than 80 per cent of new homes built in Scotland use timber frames, a very sustainable method of construction and crucial to Scotland’s 2045 net zero target.

Another challenge in clearing storm-damaged wood comes from the impact on Scots pine when it lies on the forest floor. Within a few months, fallen pine can suffer from 'blue-stain', a fungal discolouration which makes it less attractive.

We are also working hard to ensure resources, both skilled people and machines, are deployed in the right places at the right time. These resources are limited and have commitments elsewhere, so Confor is working closely with members, and the public bodies, to deploy these finite resources as best we can. We're a cooperative industry which works well in a crisis and we get our heads together regularly to plan the next steps carefully. After the initial shock of Storm Arwen, the supply chain has assessed the situation, considered the options, and worked out a strategy.

That means tackling urgent safety issues, then ensuring fallen wood gets to the market, then looking ahead – as we plan how to replant the worst-affected areas.

It will take decades for new trees to grow, but forestry is a long-term business – and for the sake of our environment and our rural economies, those trees will be replanted.

Storm Arwen might have battered large parts of Scotland, and our industry, but we're back on our feet. We go again.

Andy Leitch is Deputy Chief Executive of Confor: promoting forestry and wood


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