Thirty years on from the Great Storm of 1987, Ellie Harrison visits Wakehurst Place in West Sussex to learn how it dealt with the devastation.
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Hurricane strength winds.
A nation caught off-guard.
Huge swathes of the UK plunged into chaos.
It was exactly 30 years ago today that the Great Storm of 1987 hit.
If you're old enough, you can probably remember where you were.
Huge areas of the countryside were destroyed that night and 15 million
trees came crashing down in the darkness.
Such extreme weather really hits the landscape hard,
so is 30 years long enough for nature to fight back?
I've come to Wakehurst in West Sussex,
where the 16th-century mansion and historic gardens bore the full brunt
of the storm.
-What was it like?
-It was terrifying. The noise was incredible.
Three decades later, I'll be finding out how this landscape
has been repaired and renewed...
Over the last 30 years, there's been an amazing amount of restoration.
..and what makes this place
so important for trees across the globe.
I'll also be looking back at some of our own encounters with extreme
weather, like the time Matt went looking for a town lost at sea.
The bracing winds,
occasionally getting slapped in the face by the winds!
Or when Sean was nearly lost at sea himself.
So, Glenn, I've done some fishing in my time,
but it was quite different to this.
And when Adam saw the impact that extreme weather can have on our
landscape and those who strive to rebuild it.
I knew the dyke was bad, but it's absolutely devastated, isn't it?
It's dreadful. It's very hard to imagine the power of the sea.
The Sussex countryside.
A patchwork of fields and forests.
It looks like it's been this way for centuries,
but there have been some recent changes.
30 years ago today, this landscape was changed forever,
as the biggest storm in living memory smashed its way through
southern England, leaving massive devastation in its wake.
And the Botanic Gardens here at Wakehurst in West Sussex
were right in its path.
The Great Storm of 1987 tore through our countryside and towns alike,
ripping up buildings and tossing down trees.
Even the Met Office was unprepared for the extreme speed and intensity
of the gales.
With winds gusting at up to 100mph, nothing was safe.
Tragically, 18 people lost their lives.
Here at Wakehurst, the Kew Gardens country estates,
they had a magnificent and historic woodland, but that night,
as hurricane-strength winds ripped through the grounds,
centuries-old trunks snapped like twigs and, in the end,
20,000 trees were lost.
It's not a night Dave Marchant is likely to forget.
Dave, you were here at the time, weren't you?
I was, yes. We were living in the cottage in the middle of the garden.
-What was it like?
-It was terrifying.
Trees flying past, the house was shaking.
We were really frightened with the amount of noise
-of the wind going by.
And we got up and we turned the CB radio on, and we were listening to
the truckers saying they had to stop and there were trees down across
the road and we realised it was something really big.
We'd lost power, we'd lost water, we'd lost telephones.
-It's quite apocalyptic, really.
The next morning, the devastation was revealed.
Botanic collections that took generations to gather were gone
in the blink of an eye.
What was that feeling like when you came out and you saw
Wakehurst in a whole new light?
We were shocked, and didn't know whether to cry or what to do
when we walked out that morning.
It must have been quite disorientating.
I was born here.
My father was here 50 years before me, and my mother,
and I knew the estate backwards.
And we walked outside, we couldn't find our bearings because
major landmarks had gone.
Wakehurst set to work removing the fallen trees, and the noise
of chainsaws rang out across the county for years,
as the land was cleared and the team came to terms with the loss.
Nature is a wonderful healer.
We replanted, we put in windbreaks.
It took us five years, and it was quite an experience.
So, lots and lots of work involved, and so much work involved that you
were decorated for it.
Yes, I was awarded the MBE in 2002
for services to the Wakehurst estate.
That was a great honour.
Rebuilding this landscape was never going to be just as simple as
replanting the trees that had fallen over and, later,
I'll be finding out how they began the long process of restoration.
If you have any memories, or even pictures of the Great Storm,
we'd love to see them. Please tweet us at...
The storm 30 years ago destroyed these woodlands,
but as Matt discovered, 700 years ago,
an even bigger storm destroyed a whole town.
Suffolk, a dynamic coastline eroding in parts, yet growing in others.
What the North Sea gives, it also takes away.
I'm in Dunwich, just south of Lowestoft.
In the Middle Ages, this place was one of the country's most important
North Sea trade imports.
But these waters that brought the town all of its wealth
eventually sealed its fate.
Brutal and relentless storms would batter the port,
crumble the coastline and flood the land.
And during one particularly vicious storm,
the land just gave way and a quarter of Dunwich sank.
That same Great Storm of seven centuries ago also claimed hundreds
of lives, washed away by the flood, committed to a watery grave.
I'm heading out to sea, to where Dunwich's sunken streets now lie.
Taking me is Professor David Sear.
He's a geographer, who's made it his life's mission to plot the remains
of what is Europe's largest underwater town.
That looks quite choppy out there this morning.
Just a tad. Yeah.
The way you've got to look at it is about this time of year, in 1287,
the biggest storm took out Dunwich, and it might be that we're going to
experience a little bit of it first-hand, actually.
Well, that's the whole point of going out there, to sense the power
of these waves that brought the town to its end.
-I think we'll sense the power of the waves, Matt.
-Look at this wave! Here we go!
Certainly a good way to wake you up first thing in the morning.
It's a bit bracing, isn't it?
Bracing winds. Occasionally getting slapped in the face by the winds!
So, when did you first experience this place?
And when did the love of this whole world that's beneath the waves
come to your life?
We used to holiday here as a family and they did have these
strange lumps of masonry on the beach.
And I can remember being sat on them and being told,
"You're sitting on the remains of a medieval church."
And then, even better, that out there was this vast...
..medieval town of eight churches, chapels, priories.
And it's unbelievable, you know?
The boyhood dream turned to professional reality when David had
the idea to use acoustic imaging to see through the murky waters...
..technology traditionally used by the US Army to find mines.
It works like shining a torch onto the sea bed,
only using sound instead of light.
When the sound hits something hard, like a ruin,
it bounces back and a detailed picture is built up.
It just got taken out, whereas the ones up on the top...
We're now ploughing through the waves,
right above the streets of Dunwich...
..and this is what's beneath us.
The medieval town held in the dark water.
This technology has helped David and his team draw the most accurate
map yet of the town dubbed Britain's Atlantis.
Woohoo! That was good.
But in a swell like this, you can only get so close to the past.
We stand a much better chance on dry land.
Here, David is looking to the ground beneath our feet to tell us more
of Dunwich's story.
OK, we're ready to go. Are you ready for this?
Yeah. Just put our weight on it?
Put more weight on it, and down we go.
That's it, all the way, that's it.
We have some suction here.
There we go.
We're taking mud cores, a sort of tube of history, where layers
in the soil give clues as to what caused Dunwich to disappear.
And this is the exciting bit, look at this.
You can see all the sand grains.
-It's quite a discrete band here.
The only way you're going to get that is if you've had some energy
pushed into the system, and around here
the only way you get energy is through big coastal storms
punching their way through that gravel barrier and then spilling
all the sand, washing it across...
Bringing it all with it and literally just dumping it.
Just dumping it here, yeah.
What I think is really fascinating is that we've gone from estuary,
storm, marsh, estuary, back into marsh.
So, looking back down at this tube then with estuary, marsh, estuary,
marsh, are we due another estuary in this patch?
Yeah. I think that's what this tells us,
is that we can expect in the future to see that change again,
and that it is perfectly natural.
David's cores show
that the Suffolk coastline is constantly changing.
It's been that way for centuries, and will be that way
for centuries to come.
As the unlucky residents of Dunwich found out,
our coastline is especially vulnerable to the elements.
Earlier this year, Anita visited the very edge of East Yorkshire to see
how nature has weathered the storm and come back fighting.
It's been battered by gales, lashed by waves and slowly, bit by bit,
it's been swallowed up by the sea.
And what was Spurn Point is now Spurn Island.
The huge storm surge back in December 2013 ripped through
Spurn Peninsula at its narrowest point.
Huge chunks of road were washed away.
The coastline changed forever and wildlife habitats were devastated.
Spurn Point was cut off from the rest of the peninsula.
Now, at high tide, it becomes an island -
the UK's newest.
Andy Gibson from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust
witnessed the aftermath.
The disruption and the mess must have been awful.
It was not the familiar...
You know, we went to bed having a road here and having mobile dunes
and grasses, and we came back and the shoreline had moved 70 metres
into the estuary, so that's a landscape change.
-It's just incredible.
-So, did it look like that, basically?
We can see the sort of grassy dune on the sandbank on the side with the
-road that we've just come along. And that was this, was it?
-And that was
all this, with this type of road
which was cobbling, made up of blocks.
-So this is the old road?
-That's the old road blocks.
Goodness me. The power of the sea.
-That's incredible, isn't it?
Wildlife took a hit, too.
The storm battered important feeding and breeding grounds
for wetland birds. But the picture is different today.
Andy is taking me to Kilnsea Wetlands Nature Reserve,
where the bird populations have bounced back.
More than 100,000 migratory waders have been recorded here
in the last 12 months.
What bird species do you see using this wetland?
In the winter, there's the knot, the redshank, the dunlin,
the oystercatchers, grey plovers.
There's that whole range of wading birds
that use this part of the Humber.
At this time of year, in April,
there is the avocets coming to breed.
-Can we see some now?
-We can. So, you can see there...
-All lined up.
-I can, there they are.
This is a good breeding point for them, it's undisturbed.
What happened to this landscape after the surge?
The unexpected part was it filled it up with water,
but then with the pressure of water,
it opened up land drains that were existing from its previous usage
and it just about drained the place.
So the habitat wasn't ideal for avocets from a point of view
of being isolated islands and spits, and the predators
and the disturbance was much greater for them.
Now the water's back in,
they've got an isolated spit to breed on and, hopefully,
they will have a little bit more success.
I'm at Wakehurst in West Sussex,
remembering the Great Storm of 30 years ago.
And just like the wildfowl of Spurn Point,
nature has been rejuvenated in these woodlands.
After the 1987 storm destroyed 60% of the trees here,
the caretakers saw a glimmer of hope through the carnage,
an opportunity to create an innovative but controversial
Ian Parkinson, the Woodlands and Conservation Manager, was new to
Wakehurst on the night of the storm and he's been here ever since.
I'm glad you got me one of those, Ian.
-How high are we going?
-Oh, 60 metres?
Oh, that's high enough!
There's only one way to get an overview of an estate this size -
up high, over the tree tops.
-Up we go.
-Up we go.
-How are your air legs?
-Well, we'll find out in a minute.
Don't look down.
What was it about Wakehurst in particular?
Why did it get affected so badly?
Well, I think you can see as you look out across this landscape
just how elevated Wakehurst is.
So we're very vulnerable.
And all of the tree canopy had reached the same age,
so it was a very mature canopy,
so there was nothing to defuse the wind and that meant everything
-toppled over at the same time.
You can see where the wind
kind of really swept through the estate.
-And it looks like a giant game of pick-up sticks.
But as we stand next to this huge redwood here,
and as we look across the landscape,
there are clearly plenty of mature trees that survived.
Well, there were a few trees that were battered but unbowed
and they're trees that we celebrate here,
and this giant redwood is one of those.
The team had a lot of decisions to make about the best way to redevelop
the landscape and, 30 years on, they're still working on it.
The storm was devastating, but it did act as a catalyst for change,
so it gave us a unique opportunity to redevelop,
to redesign the layout of the botanic plant collections.
The new plan was to plant trees in geographical groups,
creating the woodlands of the world in miniature.
While a bird's eye view is fun,
nothing beats getting your boots muddy,
so we've got our feet back on solid ground.
So, here we are in the temperate woodlands of the world.
We're currently in Australia.
These trees I don't recognise.
These are Wollemi pine trees.
Eucalyptus all around, eucryphia...
-So, trees of a warmer climate.
Where are we now?
-Well, we're in the temperate woodlands of Chile now.
And of course one of the iconic trees of that region
is this monkey puzzle.
-We have many that survived the storm,
but this one was planted shortly after.
-This is one of my favourite trees.
-They're incredible, aren't they?
We're now moving into New Zealand.
Most of these trees have been planted since the hurricane.
They're very much planted as a conservation
and scientific and education resource.
So these are very, very valuable botanic collections.
Who'd have thought you could tour the southern hemisphere
without ever leaving West Sussex?
In a moment I'm going to be getting my hands as well as my boots muddy,
planting some saplings and doing my bit to restore the woodlands here,
as well as finding out why the future of conservation at Wakehurst
isn't just held in the ground.
But first, as Adam found out in the Orkney Islands,
stormy weather can threaten even the hardiest of breeds.
Low-lying and exposed to the elements,
this is a tough place to live -
man OR beast.
Many years ago, Dad and I came up to these islands to help secure
the future of these wonderful little North Ronaldsay sheep,
and it's a trip that brings back fond memories.
In the 1970s,
this rare breed only lived on this one isolated island, so they were
vulnerable to disease wiping them out.
But with the help of the locals,
my dad and I managed to move some of the sheep to safer locations
around the UK.
Now, with several flocks established on the mainland,
the future of the breed looks more secure.
However, back here on their tiny native island,
things aren't looking so rosy.
The North Ronaldsays were banished to the beach back in 1832,
when the laird built a sheep dyke around the whole island
to reserve the pastures for cattle.
Deprived of grass, the sheep soon adapted to their new environment,
living solely off seaweed.
Kevin Woodbridge moved from England 39 years ago
to become the island's GP.
Now retired, he has become clerk
of North Ronaldsay's grandly-titled Sheep Court.
I know here it's very different to our sheep back home that get fat
in the summer. Your sheep get fat in the winter, don't they?
Yes, in the summer they're entirely dependent on what they can pick up
in the ebbtide, but, in the winter,
the storms uproot all the seaweed beds out in the sea and bring huge
banks of seaweed onto the foreshore, and then the sheep actually gorge
themselves on that and they are actually fittest and fattest at
this time of year and the best time to send them off for market.
-So can we get up close to one and catch one?
What is a good one? He looks pretty big.
-A good one there, yes.
Let's have a feel of him. He's got a good covering of meat over his
backbone and on the rib there.
He's really quite podgy. And the meat is delicious, isn't it?
The meat is wonderful. It's very lean and very tasty.
During the winter months, on that seashore it must be so harsh.
What is it then in the sheep that makes them such good survivors?
Well, it's a primitive breed which has adapted entirely to living here
on the seaweed. But you can see that the fleece is really lovely
and thick and downy underneath, and you've got these hairs
coming through and the guard hairs on the outside,
which gives a warm inner lining,
but also it sheds the rain and the snow and the sleet away
from getting in and soaking the fleece.
So they are in fine fettle -
putting on condition, there's plenty of them.
-What's the problem?
-The problem really is that the depopulation of
the island has reduced the number of people who are keeping sheep, and so
maintaining the full flock is a challenge from reduced numbers
and also maintaining the dyke
which has been very seriously storm-damaged
in the last few years.
We haven't got the manpower in the island to get it back up.
The dyke being the sea wall
-that keeps the sheep on the seashore?
Like the rest of the UK, in the last few years,
Orkney has experienced some huge storms.
Whilst the sheep and the islanders have adapted to cope with the worst
the winter weather can throw at them,
the stone sheep-dyke has been devastated.
Peter Titley is a former chairman of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust
and founder of the Orkney Sheep Foundation,
a special organisation dedicated to the North Ronaldsay survival.
-Hi, Peter. Great to see you.
-Hello, Adam. Great to see you.
Goodness me, I knew the dyke was bad, but it's absolutely devastated,
It's very hard to imagine the power of the sea.
How important is it then to keep the sheep on the seashore?
If they were to go elsewhere and mix with other breeds of sheep,
we'd lose the genetic integrity, and once that has gone then these
special sheep, with thousands of years of history,
are lost to the world forever because this is the only place
where they actually live in this traditional way.
This is a very special place. Very special sheep.
So a daunting task ahead, but maybe fencing is the answer.
You've got a fence here already that can contain the sheep.
Well, it's a temporary answer.
I mean, if the dyke is down, one has to rely on this temporary fencing,
this wire fencing, but it's not ideal.
What we want to see is some restoration.
We want to see the dyke rebuilt, so that we can actually return
these sheep to something that actually fits
their ancient history on this shoreline.
The islanders are doing what they can.
But in the face of such devastation, they need help.
Kate Traill Price is the great-great-great-granddaughter
of the laird who originally commissioned the dyke.
She's also working with the Orkney Sheep Foundation to help rebuild it.
Back in the day you'd have had over 500 people living on the island.
Everybody was in charge of their own section,
they'd help to repair it every time it was down.
And it really worked for generations and, of course, now,
with less than 50 people living on the island, it's a mammoth task
for these guys. And, as you can see, they are all skilled,
they all know how to do it, but there's just not enough hands.
Well, it's quite a skilled job.
I'd better have a word with some of the masters at work here
and find out how they do this.
With the dry stone walls in the Cotswolds,
we build them really tight so you can't see through them.
Here, there's lots of gaps in the wall.
The seas like to be able to come through the holes in the dyke,
and we like to see it coming through
rather than staying on the other side and knocking down the dyke.
Oh, I see. If you had a solid barrier,
the wave would just knock it down rather than come through?
Yes. Of course, it only works in a limited way because eventually
it knocks it down anyway.
So how long have you been building dry stone walls on Orkney?
Getting on 70 years.
70 years? So how old are you then?
-Goodness me, it must be this Orkney air.
Actually, come to think of it, I'm just 79 today.
-Wish me happy birthday.
-What a way to spend your birthday.
What a treat, building a dry stone wall!
While Adam's rebuilding for a native breed,
I'm helping out with something a little more exotic.
Here at Wakehurst, there are a few ancient specimens that somehow
managed to survive that stormy night in October 30 years ago,
just like this incredible monkey puzzle tree, which is clearly
something of a fighter because it's still standing tall today.
Now, as part of the ongoing restoration following the storm,
it's getting some new neighbours thanks to Jo Wenham,
the Nursery Manager.
-Can I give you a hand there, Jo?
-Hey, yeah. That would be great.
-Good. So what are we planting up?
So, these are araucaria araucana.
-Latin for monkey puzzle.
And they were collected in 2009 when we went on an expedition to Chile.
You've got other monkey puzzles here -
why couldn't you just use seeds from your collection?
Well, we only have female trees at the moment so we need the males
to enable the seed to properly pollinate each other
so we get filled seed.
So, we went and collected these from a unique genetic population
in the coasts of Chile, the only one remaining in the world.
The seeds are harvested from the cones of mature trees.
They are an edible seed, actually,
and they make monkey puzzle mash out of them so we ate monkey puzzle mash
-while we were out there.
-What's it like?
Beautiful. Sort of chestnut mash, that sort of thing.
So each of these will be the seed on the cone?
Yes. They will peel away and you'll get about 200 seeds in each cone.
They can't be stored traditionally in a seed bank because of that
fleshy seed, so we are going to conserve them here at Wakehurst
in a massive swathe, which we hope to be a Patagonian walkway.
And none of these budding woodlands of the world would have been planted
if it hadn't been for the 1987 storm.
Over the last 30 years, there's been an amazing amount of restoration
that's happened at Wakehurst, an amazing amount of planting and this
is just a continuation of that, trying to conserve plants.
-In it goes.
-Let's do it.
There we go. So that is one of...
I feel like my work here is done. I might leave you to the other 79.
-It's always a lovely feeling, isn't it,
-putting a tree in the ground?
-It is amazing.
There we go - my monkey puzzle firmly in the ground,
a little helping hand towards nature.
But the hand of man can also be a hindrance as well as a help and,
just like extreme weather,
the storm of our industry can cause endless damage.
But nature, as always, fights back,
as Matt found out in Tyne & Wear.
There is a raw beauty to this place, with honest scars
of its industrial past.
Eight miles over there is Newcastle and, on a good day,
across the Tyne, you can see Sunderland from here.
A land stitched together through the seams of its coal,
mined for generations to power the region's shipyards and steelworks.
This steep hill is actually man-made.
It's a massive pile of waste -
spoil from the pursuit of coal
at what was once one of the largest working coal mines in the world...
..the Rising Sun Colliery.
Today this former pit is a country park,
a haven for wildlife, and somewhere to get away from the urban sprawl.
So here we are, then, Danny,
a place that holds a lot of memories for you.
Quite true. Quite good memories.
-Quite sad memories as well.
Former mine worker Danny Harrison remembers a time before the
day-trippers, when this site was alive with industry,
a busy pit producing more than 2,500 tonnes of coal a day.
What do you remember about life down there, Danny?
Well, it was very dangerous, I suppose, but if you asked any miner,
-they'd take it in their stride, you know.
As the air travels through the workings,
it gets hotter and hotter, you know.
I used to go down as a fitter,
and people would be looking for their fitter
and didn't realise it was me because I would be in short pants, no shirt
and just a pair of boots and that, you know, cos it used to get...
-Because it was so hot down there?
-The sweat was running out of you.
So it can be very tricky, but at times good fun.
By the time the Rising Sun closed in 1969,
Tyneside had already lost most of its collieries.
This was just one more nail in the coffin
of the north-east's coal industry.
What do you feel when you stand here now?
I feel a bit sorry because...
..basically, we lost 1,700 jobs,
so I get a bit sad on that...
Do you see any beauty here?
-It is, it's beautiful.
The minute the pit closed in 1969, land reclamation began.
By the mid-'70s, 29,000 trees had been planted.
But more than six decades of mining took a heavy toll.
The soil was left thin and poor.
As a result, these trees are struggling
to reach their full height.
So you reckon most of these would have been planted at the same time?
Yeah, I mean, all the trees you see here, planted all at the same time.
This Swedish whitebeam, a non-native species,
as you can see the diameter of it, it's hardly grown at all.
Not what you'd expect from a tree in its 40s.
Chris, the park's land officer,
is showing me just how shallow the tree roots go.
So we've got a bit of a casualty here, Chris,
of the north-east winds. But it's exposed the soil,
you get a good view of what's going on underneath.
Yeah, I mean, as you can see, really poor soil.
We've got a bit of brick there.
A bit of metal there that has surfaced.
-Things just keep popping up every now and again.
The site was originally planted with hardy North American trees
like lodgepole pine,
the kind of trees that could cope with poor growing conditions.
For native trees to have a chance, the soil quality needs to improve.
With the soil itself, then,
are you just hoping that time is going to be your friend and it will
just improve with age?
Yeah, I mean, every autumn obviously we're going to get all the likes of
pine needles, leaves - you know,
as you can see everything is starting to rot down.
-It's looking really good for the future.
Today, the Rising Sun Country Park is one of the best places for
wildfowl and wading birds on Tyneside -
acres and acres of wetland making the perfect habitat for breeding.
But this winter's massive downpours have flooded huge areas of the park
and that's a problem.
Look at this, Matt, it's turned into a swamp.
Goodness me. Is this unprecedented then?
-Have you ever seen anything like this before?
I haven't, but we've got members of the public who walk around here
who have lived here for 40 years and they have said they've seen nothing
-like this before.
Chris is concerned the high water levels may affect breeding.
A worry then, as far as nesting birds are concerned for you?
Yeah, I mean, the water levels have got a lot deeper so the types of
birds that would live on here, it might be too deep for them to feed.
Also we've got two nesting islands, permanent ones -
the black-headed gulls and the Arctic terns nest on them and they
are underwater now. Nonexistent.
It's not just this park that's been struggling with flooding.
Sadly, it seems extreme weather is becoming more and more frequent.
The extraordinary storm of '87 will live long in the memory,
but in recent years we've seen more devastation at home
and natural disasters abroad.
So we sent Tom in search of some answers.
So is the exceptional rainfall and widespread flooding we've seen in
recent years just part of a natural cycle
we can expect to die away again?
Or, is it the new normal?
To help me answer that question,
I'm meeting weather forecaster and friend of Countryfile, John Hammond.
-Good morning, John.
Welcome to my open air, rather wobbly 3D weather studio.
Those BBC economies are really beginning to bite.
-You said that, not me.
-So how does this help us to understand what
-happened this winter?
-One factor we think which was behind this event
this winter was actually El Nino -
the other side of the world, the heating of the tropical Pacific.
We know that that heating actually affects the behaviour of the jet
stream. The jet stream meanders around the northern hemisphere,
very important for our weather.
It was those winds which brought up a lot of warm, moist air from the
tropics and headed in our direction along this atmospheric river,
generating a lot of cloud up through the Irish Sea.
As it hit high ground here in Cumbria,
that air was forced to rise, and if you lift moist air it condenses
and it cools and it produces colossal amounts of rain -
over a metre of rain this December in parts of Cumbria.
So, with climate change,
are we likely to see this kind of weather more often?
That's a really hard question to answer and it's a challenge for
climate scientists, but certainly we think that with a warmer planet,
warm air can hold more moisture.
If you raise the temperature by one degree
it can hold 6% more moisture.
So these atmospheric rivers coming up towards us
will contain more moisture, and these extreme winter rainfall events
are likely, we think, with a warmer planet, to become more extreme.
But this kind of extreme weather is often described as a
one-in-100-year event, so how come we are seeing it so regularly?
It's a bit like rolling a dice.
Come over here to the snow patch.
Statistically, you'd expect the six to come up every sixth throw.
But it doesn't. It's a bit like the weather.
A one-in-a-100-year event is a long-term average.
The reality is that these events can crop up in quick succession and then
nothing happens at all.
What we do think is, with a warmer world,
in a sense the dice are loaded towards those more extreme events
-happening more often.
-So could these more frequent flooding events
-be the new normal?
-That's the challenge for climate scientists.
We think, with a warmer climate,
the odds are shortening but we don't know what they are shortening to yet
and more research is needed.
So it could become more often than one in 100,
but we don't know what the new figure is?
Yeah, one in what? That's the challenge.
With the possibility of more frequent bad weather,
we need to carefully plan ahead for the protection of our wild species.
This historic estate has seen generations of owners gather plants
and trees from across the world.
But this priceless collection was destroyed by the storm of '87.
Out on the land they are helping to protect the monkey puzzle tree
by planting them in the ground.
In here, they are helping to preserve trees
in a very different way.
Welcome to the Millennium Seed Bank.
What's certain is the need to safeguard our plant life
from future storms, and here they have the technology.
Believe it or not, this is the most biodiverse place on Earth.
In there is 13% of the world's wild plant species.
We're deep underground and it's -20, which is necessary to preserve
the two billion seeds that are in there.
It's so cold, I'm going to need this.
Danny Ballesteros from Kew Science is on hand to explain more.
-This is such an extraordinary place.
I've never been anywhere like it. It's incredible. What is a
Millennium Seed Bank, what's its purpose?
So the Millennium Seed Bank, as the name says, is a bank.
So it's where we store seeds for the future.
It's estimated that one in five plant species are threatened with
extinction worldwide, so preserving these seeds could be the saviour
of landscapes across the globe.
So what's the process of getting the seeds into the seed bank?
So what we do is to dry them.
Once they are dry, we put them here in the freezer.
-Because at these temperatures, -20 degrees Celsius,
we can keep them for a very, very long time, for years.
The team collect seeds from all over the world.
Around 90% are OK to be dried and then stored in the seed bank.
The other 10%,
including the monkey puzzle and our very own oak and horse chestnut,
have what's called recalcitrant seeds, and they require
some hi-tech handling.
So what happens to the recalcitrant seeds?
Well, recalcitrant seeds have seeds that cannot be dried and,
because they cannot be dried,
they cannot be stored at the conditions of the seed bank.
Currently, the only technology we have is the use of liquid nitrogen
in order to freeze them very fast and keep them at those really,
really low temperatures.
These seeds hold a lot of water, so if they were frozen slowly,
ice crystals would form and damage the tissues.
Ultra-fast freezing is the only way to preserve them.
But first, Danny needs to remove the tiny embryos from the seeds.
Look how fast you do this.
Like a top chef processing food.
Sometimes. We cannot damage them...
-..so you have to be careful.
So this whole thing isn't preserved, it's just this tiny piece?
It's just the tiny, the tiny embryo.
The embryos are then processed and they're ready for freezing.
Liquid nitrogen is -196 degrees,
so we'll need a bit of extra protection.
Within five seconds, they will be completely frozen, so...
All right, see you on the other side.
No ice crystals allowed.
-No ice crystals.
So, there they are, frozen, the oaks of the future.
And there's one more little slice of nature that's being saved
for a future date.
Right then, Danny...
Hold on a second.
They're even preserving the Countryfile Calendar here.
And if you want to get your hands on yours,
you don't have to go to quite such extreme lengths.
Here's John with the details.
I love that!
It costs £9.50 including free UK delivery.
You can go to our website
where you'll find a link to the order page.
Or you can phone the order line...
If you prefer to order by post, then send your name,
address and a cheque to...
A minimum of £4.50 from the sale of each calendar
will be donated to BBC Children In Need.
In the last 30 years,
Wakehurst has become a showcase for conservation on a global scale.
But I'm off to an area of the estate which has been left untouched
since the Great Storm.
And the best person to show me this pristine wilderness
is the Nature Reserve Warden, Steve Robinson.
-Hi, Ellie. Welcome to my paradise.
Thank you! Special access.
You're the privileged one, you are.
Natural woodlands laugh in the face of a footpath, don't they?
Steve, this place feels very different to the rest of the estate.
It's very unique in that it hasn't changed since the 1987 storm,
so these trees, you can see here, lying here, actually fell
that very night. And the way we can tell that is they're falling
in a south-westerly direction.
That's the way the wind pushed through the woodland here,
knocked over these big trees.
It's not just this one, there are some all around us here.
Yeah, they all fell the same way.
And what's nice, you've got a dead tree here,
decaying very slowly into the ground.
Some trees take as long to grow back down into the ground as they do
-to actually grow and live.
-Was it a deliberate decision
to leave everything and create an environment like this?
This part of the estate isn't open to the public,
so as regards health and safety, we could allow the trees
to go through a natural system of decaying.
Basically, a healthy woodland is an untidy woodland and that provides
a whole matrix of different environments,
different invertebrates, mammals, insects, etc.
There may be benefits for wildlife now, but during the storm,
it was a different story.
It happened at night so the nocturnal animals were out
and about, away from their sets and their dens.
So, Ellie, you've got things like these game trails,
they've been used by generations of animals - badgers, foxes, deer.
A lot of them navigate themselves back by using these trails as
scent trails with their noses.
So when these trees came down, for instance here,
their game trails would have been completely disrupted
by fallen branches, so it would have been complete confusion
-to get them back to their home.
Not all of the trees here fell on that devastating night in 1987.
This is a more recent tree coming down,
cos it's in a different direction.
Yeah, so this is a huge beech tree that came down earlier this year.
It's come down sort of north-easterly direction so we know
it's not an '87 storm tree.
And also it hasn't decayed anywhere near as far as the other trees.
When a big tree falls, for the first time in years,
light floods down on to the forest floor
and new life begins to flourish.
So also, you get fungi coming in through here,
and this has got a fantastic local name, if you like,
-called Bachelor Button fungi.
Very much looks like Liquorice Allsorts, but you can't eat it.
So this is woodland as it would be without the hand of man.
Definitely, yeah - without the chainsaw,
without the need for the wood-burning stove.
This is how woodland should be left to go through its own natural
What an amazing landscape.
Well, with a bit of luck
the weather won't be quite so dramatic this week.
But let's find out to be sure, with the Countryfile forecast
for the week ahead.
I'm at Wakehurst in West Sussex, to find out how the Great Storm
of 30 years ago changed this place forever,
and how nature fought back.
And on Countryfile, we've been battling the elements on air
for nearly the same amount of time.
What a soggy pair we are, eh?
I know, but don't worry, warm-hearted, warm-hearted.
Thick fog and rain. It can get very harsh.
The Highlanders took off their kilts.
Sleet and snow...
Whose idea was this in winter?
Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!
My legs are killing.
That's not even funny.
My stormy bike ride was clearly one of the worst,
but if there is a close second,
it has to be the time that Sean visited North Yorkshire
a couple of years ago.
This wintry weather keeps many people away, but, for some,
these are the perfect conditions for a spot of fishing.
But I'm not talking about your average angling -
this is extreme.
Winter cod fishing is said to be one of the most difficult forms
of the sport that there is.
And it's that challenge that attracts committed anglers
like Glenn Kilpatrick to these blustery beaches.
So, Glenn, I've done some fishing in my time but it was coarse fishing
in tranquil lakes and rivers.
Quite a bit different to this.
Yeah, this is going to be a very different day for you, I think.
Glenn's been fishing the numbing North Sea around Whitby since
he was a boy. His real passion is winter rock fishing for cod.
I never would have thought you could do cod fishing from the land.
I always assumed you'd be out on a boat.
Yeah, well, this time of year, because of the winter storms we get,
it churns all the food up out of the local shoreline.
So you've got worms and shrimps and everything living in the sand here,
you've got sand eels underneath us.
In the rocks, you've got crabs and shrimps.
So the fish will come right in,
right into a few feet of water to find that food.
It's like a big banquet for fish, really.
And in this part of the country it's really popular, isn't it?
Yeah, each weekend, there's some big competitions right across the coast.
Hundreds and hundreds of people enter.
You get large groups of people out most nights of the week,
right through winter, fishing.
Glenn and his die-hard mates think nothing of braving gale-force winds
like this, in pursuit of a prized catch.
This lot are like the SAS of the angling world.
Is this the most difficult type of fishing you can do?
Most definitely, yeah. I think the skill and the knowledge involved
here to really get the best out of this type of fishing
and environment, yeah, it probably is the most difficult.
On a day like today, nowhere finer
than this little place here because of the shelter of the bay.
We've also got a big reef runs offshore
about half a mile out of here.
So on the roughest of rough days, this is the place to fish.
I've got to be honest, with these fierce winds hammering away at us,
it doesn't feel that sheltered to me and the camera crew.
So, this is the bait, what is it?
Yeah, there's a mix there, there's peeler crab,
there's mussel and there's lugworm, which are all found naturally here -
-that's the reason we use them.
-Doesn't look very nice to you and I
but I guess that's a cod's feast, is it?
To a cod, that's a big fillet steak.
Glenn, is it always like this? These conditions are awful!
This is as harsh as it gets. As long as the sea's rough, this is...
We like to be out in this sort of weather,
-this is when the fish come in to feed.
-My hand's getting so cold.
I find the back of my hands go very numb.
Yeah. I find all of my hands go very numb.
Glenn's caught a 15-pounder here in the past,
but today's proving tough...
..for all of us.
He's caught a fish.
-He's caught one?
-Yeah, in the red.
-Is that lunch?
-That could be lunch.
These guys are hugely experienced,
but the dangers of winter rock fishing shouldn't be underestimated.
For us, today, the weather has continued to worsen,
so we're playing it safe and heading in.
Thankfully, we can seek refuge in a local restaurant where chef Simon,
an honorary member of Glenn's fishing fraternity,
is going to work his magic with our catch of the day.
Here we are, Simon, this is what we caught this morning.
It's not a lot - is this going to be enough?
It's not very big,
but I'm sure I'll be able to put something together with it.
The local people, they love it deep-fried in batter.
But I'll do something a bit different today
and do you a nice piece of pan-fried.
-So what do we all think of the food?
Great, isn't it? Can I just point out, when I took the fish in there,
he was pretty derogatory about it. He said it was very small,
how's he going to do this, how's he going to cook for you guys?
He's sort of performed a biblical miracle, hasn't he,
feeding all six of us?
He's done well.
Well, I think, maybe after we get finished, we could
pop out and do a bit more fishing.
-Yeah, sounds good.
-I think we need to, really, don't we, yeah?
I think I'm going to sit this one out, guys.
The fishing's always better at night.
No, it's all right. I'll leave it.
I'd stick to the coarse fishing if I were you, Sean.
Well, that's all we've got time for for this week.
Remember, if you want to get your hands on the Countryfile Calendar,
just head over to our website.
Next week, John and Margherita are in Cornwall where they'll be looking
at lost language, and trying a feast with a difference.
We'll see you then, bye-bye.
On 15 October 1987 a storm hit the UK with such force that it brought down millions of trees, created devastation and chaos and tragically killed 18 people. Thirty years on, Ellie visits Wakehurst Place in West Sussex, a 500-acre estate which lost 20,000 trees that night and faced some hard decisions as dawn broke the next day. Ellie meets up with the team that rebuilt and replanted Wakehurst's collection and helped turn it into the showcase for global conservation that it is today.
Ellie also looks back through the Countryfile archive, remembering the stories and places that have also suffered and rebuilt in face some of Britain's wildest weather.