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Counting the cost of storm damage

Storm and flood damage on the Welsh coastline dominated the headlines in January and February but the true extent of damage to the wider environment is also now becoming apparent.

New statistics from Natural Resources Wales show that around £1 million of damage was caused to commercial forests and woodland on the Welsh Government estate.

This figure does not include the many privately-owned forests which also suffered damage during the storms.

And while most footpaths and cycle trails in North and mid-Wales forests were blocked by fallen trees at one point, a mammoth clean-up effort has seen many of these re-open in the last few weeks with many more due to be cleared before the Easter holidays.

In Coed y Brenin near Dolgellau, the Visitor Centre and most of the walking and cycling trails are now open as normal.

North and mid Wales bore the brunt of the storms with the National Nature Reserve at Coed Bryn Mawr, near Maentwrog in Meirionnydd, losing more than 450 mature oaks.

But although this was the worst event of its kind in 30 years there are long term benefits as the gaps left in the canopy can accelerate new tree growth.

Blocked roads were a problem at Coed y Brenin where a one-mile stretch of road between Dolgartheg and Hermon has been cleared, but a further 4,000 cubic metres of trees – almost enough to fill two Olympic sized swimming pools - will need to be removed to re-open the half-mile-long stretch between Hermon and Llanfachreth.

It is expected to take another three to four months to clear this section and in the meantime, Natural Resources Wales has provided an alternative route along a forest road.

Further work to clear 1,000 cubic metres of timber has re-opened a road near Ganllwyd, Dolgellau, to provide access to Ferndale lodge and the Waterfalls and Goldmines footpath.

Clocaenog Forest in north east Wales also suffered significant damage, where it has been calculated that around 20,000 trees were blown down, blocking eight sections of road and bringing down power and telephone lines in the process.  

Work has now been completed on clearing access to properties and power lines, and continues on boundary repairs, clearing footpaths and removing overhanging branches which pose a safety risk.

The total cost of repairs for north and mid Wales is expected to be in the region of £440,000, with work continuing throughout the year.

In south Wales the situation is not as severe but lots of individual or small groups of trees have been blown over and some becoming unstable.

Even so, the costs of removing fallen and dangerous trees, dealing with water erosion issues, landslip damage, as well as existing problems which have been escalated by the bad weather are expected to reach more than £390,000 .

Welsh wildlife and nature conservation sites did not escape the storms unscathed with beaches and sand dunes especially affected.

Huge amounts of sand have been washed away or moved and shingle ridges were driven inshore while dunes, salt marshes and cliff faces have suffered erosion.

The severe weather also damaged more than 60 sections of the Wales Coast Path, most of which were minor and remain passable with care.

On a positive note, important coastal freshwater habitats such as Bosherton Lakes, Pembrokeshire, escaped unscathed by saltwater which would have damaged their ecosystems.

However the true impact on wildlife may not become obvious until later in the year as hibernating animals, amphibians and invertebrates may have fallen victim to the storms.

Kim Burnham, Natural Resources Wales said:

"The storms which battered Wales caused terrible damage which will take time to repair.

"However, the hard work of our teams has ensured the clean-up operation is well underway and already many of our forests and woodlands are open for business with more to follow.

"The natural environment is important to visitors and residents alike, and the contribution of outdoor recreation to the Welsh economy and a healthy lifestyle is significant.

"This is why we are doing everything we can to ensure the clear-up is completed as quickly as possible.

"In the long term the recovery of storm-damaged woodlands will result in more diverse, healthier trees making them a better place for people and wildlife."

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