The winter storms have caused the greatest loss of trees in a generation with 500 toppled at a single Westcountry estate, the National Trust has said.
Woodlands, parks and gardens cared for by the trust have seen the worst damage for more than two decades, and in some cases since the “great storm” of 1987.
Councils in Devon and Cornwall reported widespread damage to individual trees and “significant blocks of woodland” with more than 1,300 separate calls from the public reporting trees blown down or damaged with branches blocking the road.
The trust’s nature and wildlife specialist Matthew Oates said there was great sadness at losing old, sentinel trees which he described as “nature’s cathedrals”.
“People love and need trees, and the loss of specimen trees in gardens and parks, and of ancient beeches and oaks in the woods and wider countryside, hurts us all and damages much wildlife,” he added.
“We value and venerate these old sentinels and need to become increasingly aware of the power of the weather.”
However, with increased storminess, and increased extreme weather events predicted, he also said the devastation would force a rethink about what and where to plant in future.
Old oak, ash and beech fell victim to the powerful gales which lashed the region in a series of ferocious storms from December to February with Monterey pines and cypress trees suffering due to their large canopy.
Killerton Estate, outside Exeter, was worst hit with more than 500 trees blown over, including 20 that were significant to the landscape.
Trengwainton Garden, at Madron, near Penzance, lost around 30 trees from the shelter-belt that surrounds the garden with staff spending more than 1,000 hours clearing up the storm damage.
Trelissick Gardens, at Feock, lost three old lime trees, several mature oak and two very large Scots pine.
Tregothnan private estate and tea plantation, at Tresillian, near Truro, escaped relatively undamaged.
Head gardener Jonathon Jones said the estate was “really badly hammered” in 1990, losing 200 trees, and after this they had decided to take down very many old trees nearing the end of their lifespan.
“The National Trust are not able to do that because they are under so much public pressure to preserve trees,” he added. “It is always very sad to see trees go because we are so attached to them but we have got to see it as a fantastic opportunity to plant new things.”