The Great Storm, October 16th 1987

In the darkness, windiness and noise of the night, we moved the big bed well away from the window and the whole family climbed into it, hoping that the windows would not blow in or the roof lift off. We had not experienced weather like this ever before, even during foreign travels; but the weather forecast had mentioned a hurricane across northern France a short distance away to the south.

The next morning there was, of course, no electricity, there were big tree trunks across the village streets, branches, twigs and leaves covered our garden. The car radio told us that, indeed, during the night, the hurricane had moved north, to cross central southern and eastern England. As in the whole region, we could only get through the village, or anywhere else, on foot. People actually talked to each other, instead of racing past in cars! The weather forecasters were berated publicly.

I  cooked on a camping-gaz stove, as I had done many times before at home when the electricity went off, even on Christmas Day one year. Luckily I always stocked the pantry ready for winter, so I was not worried about lack of food. Electricity was off for up to a fortnight in our village; electricians from Scotland were needed for several months to bring the network back into working order.

We were pleased not to have more than minor damage. Others suffered their boats being blown onto the land from the sea, their caravans and cars disappearing somewhere else, or having trees falling on their houses. Properties along the coast at Selsey Bill (‘Shipping Forecast’) had their roofs blown away. There seemed to be water everywhere. Salt-marsh and low-lying coastal farms  had been inundated at high-tide – bad news for the soil on such high-quality farmland.

Apart from deaths and damage to property, what upset many people in this very wooded area was the enormous loss to trees. Famous woodlands of majestic beech  were toppled; a lime-tree avenue was thinned; an estate lost 40% of its forests overnight. Piles of leaning and broken trees made clearing-up costly and time-consuming. Huge root-plates perched on road verges. What had been woodlands and forests were now open land with distant views. Where was the wildlife? How would landowners cope with the extra finances needed to hire felling crews long-term and with low returns from a surfeit of timber of reduced value on the market?

Tree-people and councils explained to the public that extreme weather is a natural part of the life of a woodland; that trees of many kinds would regenerate or be re-planted, but that it would take time. Yet the public was still upset that its local environments would look ‘a mess’ for so long. However, 30 years on, it is difficult to remember places as they were before the storm. They are now enjoyed as beautiful, but different, woodlands. People again rush by each other in their cars, although some stop and walk with their dogs in beautiful places.