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Highgate Wood: How the City of London rescued trees struck by lightning

PUBLISHED: 10:57 21 November 2018 | UPDATED: 14:19 21 November 2018

Lightning caused huge problems for two mature oaks in Highgate Wood. Picture: City of London Corporation

Lightning caused huge problems for two mature oaks in Highgate Wood. Picture: City of London Corporation

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What happens when lightning strikes two of Highgate Wood’s grand old oak trees?

A portion of the canopy of Highgate Wood had to be removed by conservation staff after lightning struck. Picture: City of London CorporationA portion of the canopy of Highgate Wood had to be removed by conservation staff after lightning struck. Picture: City of London Corporation

During storms on November 1 this year, the trees were left worse for wear and to keep them standing took a daring climb and some precise surgery..

The evening’s dramatic electrical storm saw a bolt of lighning rip through the woodland, and the City of London’s specialist tree management team had to be called in to make the area safe.

David Humphries, who leads the team told the Ham&High: “Strikes like that one aren’t a very regular occurrence at all. I’ve worked here for 34 years and it’s certainly not a yearly event.

“Actually, with a lot of lightning strikes, we don’t actually come across damage. Often the lightning is simply not very strong by the time it gets through.”

The lightning ripped through the trees, from crown to root. Picture: Colin Houston / Heath HandsThe lightning ripped through the trees, from crown to root. Picture: Colin Houston / Heath Hands

In this case though,the scars from the lightning are clear to see.

David said: “You can see it [the lightning] forces its way down through the tree. The damage was quite considerable.

“There was a huge gap in the canopy and we had to cordon off the area because of the danger. We had to block it overnight.”

Making Highgate Wood safe for visitors was then the priority. And the next morning David and his team were back early the next day for an emergency operation on the canopy.

He added: “One of our climbers assessed it from the ground, and then from a mobile platform before deciding – yes, it was climbable.”

The climber then, David explained, scrambled about ten metres into the tree to the point where the canopy was damaged.

He said: “Eventually he removed the unstable section of the canopy and it was about assessing what could be conserved. In this case we were able to keep the trees standing.”

David felt being able to take a long view, and to leave trees standing for their benefit as habitats is something that hasn’t always been the done thing.

He said; “In my time working here we have moved more to that way of doing things. We understand now that trees are very resilient.

“Even if the trees are damaged we often try to keep them standing tall.”

The City of London Corporation manages Highgate Wood and Hampstead Heath.

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