Storm damage

Storm after storm has lashed our shores throughout autumn and winter 2015. The woodlands of the Severn Valley on the welsh border have been repeatedly clattered by high winds. One such woodland sits atop the sandstone ridge of the Hermitage. From the trig point there are spectacular views over the town of Bridgnorth.

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Just behind the trig point the top half of an ash tree has crashed down. As it has fallen, the trunk has been ripped open to reveal that it is hollow and stuffed full of chewed heartwood. This is the work of invertebrates and deadwood fungi that have created a dense packing of soft, sweet sawdust-like material. There is also evidence of nesting material within the trunk, a wood mouse has clearly taken advantage of cavity. The storm damage has revealed the inner architecture of the trunk and one wonders how the tree survived when it is so hollow.

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The transport fibres of a tree are called xylem and phloem and are located just beneath the bark in the outer part of the trunk. These carry water and nutrients and are vital in order for the tree to survive. Typically older trees become hollow but as long as the bark is still intact (and hence the xylem and phloem), trees can survive for many years. However, in strong winds hollow trees can lack structural strength and sometimes topple.

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The midwinter woodland scene can seem desolate with fallen limbs littering the forest floor and huge trees that have fallen like drunks at a party. It is as if the winds have cleansed the death and decay from the woods. But somehow last years ash keys and curled brown oak leaves cling onto branches, as if bound by some invisible silk. And there, blooming in the darkness in another valley woodland is an early variety of cherry plum. A sign that the New Year brings new life

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Countryside Ranger, Ecologist and Natural History Writer wandering the hills and valleys of deepest Shropshire

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