Parks rise above the storm destruction

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Over just a few hours on the night of October 15/16, strong winds transformed the town’s parks from picturesque public spaces to a tangled wreckage of fallen trees.

The devastation was immense, particularly in Christchurch Park where more than 200 trees came down and hundreds more suffered sizeable damage.

The park, like many others in the area, was closed for around six months while the massive recovery operation got under way.

Sam Pollard, who was a youngster at the time but is now the park’s manager, said: “We lost 235 trees from Christchurch Park- about 30 per cent of them would have been 300 years old plus. A further 200 had sizeable damage.

“Most of the pines came down and those that did not fall flat, were left in precarious positions. The bottom of the park was pretty much protected. As you go higher up and go into more open areas, that is where a lot of the damage was caused.”

Across town there were so many trees down all over the place that our gardeners had to go round and remove them before they could deal with any of the stuff in the park.”

Among the many old trees which were blown over was the park’s last elm tree. It had been carefully nursed against Dutch elm disease but was sadly uprooted in the strong gales. However, a yew tree situated near Christchurch Mansion, which is thought to be 600 years old and the oldest in the park, survived the winds and is still standing today.

David Horne, now head gardener at Christchurch Park, was head gardener at Bourne Park when the gale hit.

“There was total devastation,” he said. “It did not look like the same park as the day before. The whole place looked like a bomb site. It gave you a bit of a lump in your throat to think of all the work you had done had been ruined.

“I got to work at 7am that day and worked until 2am the following day, then all Saturday and Sunday. The first couple of weeks we were running around like headless chickens. But people were getting tired so we got everyone together to come up with a strategy otherwise there was going to be an accident caused.”

There was a year of hard work ahead for the teams but everyone pitched in, from schoolchildren helping to plant trees, to staff working overtime.

But it wasn’t all bad – one of the legacies was the creation of the park’s nature reserve.

Mr Pollard explained: “In one area of the park where lots of trees had come down, we left it for a while and fenced it off. It became wild as trees grew around it and it became the nature reserve.

“During the storm a lot of birds lost their natural breeding sites so we put up about 30 bird boxes and now it is a lovely nature reserve.”

Since the storm, all the trees in the park are surveyed on a regular basis. In recent years there has been a software system put in place which alerts the tree team if maintenance work is needed.

“If we were expecting a storm now we would be able to tell which trees were likely to be damaged. The storm took out every weak tree. All the trees left were probably really healthy,” Mr Pollard said.

Some of the larger trees which were blown over left a gap in the canopy, allowing the light to flood in and help the younger trees grow. Those saplings are now 25 years old and stand as towering trees in the dense woodland.

On a sunny autumnal day with the leaves changing colours, the park looks an idyllic scene – a far cry from the destruction of a quarter of a century ago.

Mr Pollard said there are now three times as many trees in the park than there were in 1987, mostly thanks to donations, ensuring that Christchurch Park remains the jewel in the town’s crown.

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