James Chubb: ‘When the North Wind does blow...’

James Chubb, events and activities manager at The Donkey Sanctuary, this week looks at ‘When the North Wind does blow...’

With the gales and torrential rain we’ve all experienced over the last few weeks, it would be slightly odd to not address this in this week’s column. Who are the winners and losers of this ferocious weather in the countryside?

Strong winds and driving rain at this time of year will have been very disruptive for nesting birds and migrants. Gale force winds keep birds grounded, for fear of being swept away, and such torrential rain permeates even the strongest waterproofing. Swallows are conspicuous with their absence this late in spring, and this is a species I am particularly interested in studying on our farms here at The Donkey Sanctuary. Not only are these beautiful aerial acrobats a central part of a summer scene, they are also insect-eaters and the more of these natural pest controllers I can get living alongside our donkeys, the better.

The most obvious casualties of strong winds are veteran trees. These stately landmarks are such a heartfelt feature of the East Devon landscape, to see one lying pathetically in a mess of tangled branches is a wretched sight indeed. But our instinctive love of big old trees sometimes blinds us to a bigger picture; a healthy tree population needs a broad range of ages, from saplings to veterans, so that these natural disasters merely make room for the next generation. With trees it’s a case of conservation rather than preservation!

There will, of course, be winners in this spate of weather – there’ll certainly be plenty of woodfuel available once the logs have seasoned! While roadside trees are quickly tidied away, fallen trees provide valuable deadwood for insects and birds. Where all reasonable parameters allow, a fallen tree should be left to naturally fade from existence, rather than being chopped up into ‘habitat’ piles which were once the conservationists favourite. Depending on the percentage of the root plate left in the ground, the tree may have sufficient footing to burst into leaf, with tiny branches spontaneously bursting from the trunk in an attempt to garner sunlight. In these circumstances parts of the tree will rot while others will grow, and this messy, organic jumble makes for the most interesting tree for wildlife.