08 December 2021

Safety warning as Aberdeenshire Council says significant tree-felling efforts will take months to complete

Aberdeenshire Council has issued a warning around fallen trees across the region in the aftermath of Storm Arwen.

The recent high winds have blown down thousands of trees – many of which are in popular parks or cemeteries.

A substantial number of hung-up and dangerous trees also require felling to ensure they are made safe and Forestry and Land Scotland has also urged members of the public to stay away from its forests.

In Aberdeenshire, Aden and Haddo country parks have been closed with immediate effect for an initial period of two weeks owing to the significant tree damage as a result of Storm Arwen.

The initial fortnight closure will enable Aberdeenshire Council to carefully assess felling operations and it has now put measures in place to sign entrances and close off barriers and would urge everyone to stay away from affected areas.

Storm Arwen also devastated parts of the historic McDonald Wood near Ellon, with many trees being damaged to such an extent that they have left the area dangerous to enter and will again need extensive works which will take months to undertake to make them safe. Contractors have started clearing the main drive through McDonald Wood and removing timber from paths, with any leaning or dangerous trees being felled and made safe.

However, given the sheer volume of trees requiring treatment across the region, the public is being warned that dangers will remain in these and many other parks, cemeteries and rural areas and that it will take many months to clear the backlog of felling.

Ewan Wallace, head of the council’s Environment and Sustainability Services, explained: “The safety of the public and our teams and contractors is paramount, yet we have already encountered the public walking past our operatives and contractors while they are felling trees.  On no account do we want anyone risking their personal safety – or indeed their pets - by visiting our country parks until our teams have been in to clear the dangers.

“Public safety is our over-riding concern and we would urge the public to take notice of our closures and stay away from areas where there are trees down. We are also concerned that members of the community are trying to help us by using chainsaws to clear fallen trees, but in the interest of safety, I would insist you don’t do this. Our teams and external contractors are trained, qualified, insured  and undertake careful risk assessments at every site, so please keep yourself safe and don’t try to cut down fallen trees or remove wood for firewood from council managed sites.

Another key focus of the local authority’s Landscape Services team has been to remove fallen or undermined trees around its schools and other properties, but fortunately there have been few cases of significant damage.

Around 16 public roads across Aberdeenshire remain closed due to fallen trees, with the most significant being the A97 at Den of Kildrummy and the B972 at the Pass of Ballater.  The Roads Service are continuing to work with contractors and land owners to clear these roads and repair the damage done by Storm Arwen, but motorist should remain vigilant when travelling on the network. 

Many of the trees which were blown over and caused damage are not under the ownership of the council, so households affected by fallen trees or damage must establish ownership and liability and notify their insurance companies as quickly as possible.

Forestry and Land Scotland said the combination of windblown trees and recent icy conditions was hazardous but there was also the risk posed by hanging trees – those which have been blown over but have been caught on standing trees. These can be highly unstable and can fall with little or no warning.

Their teams are also assessing the damage but similarly warns that the clearing up of the damage could take months. Priority will be given to tree work on locations that provide an immediate risk to people or property with the focus then shifting to providing essential access for communities, neighbours and forestry business.

Aberdeenshire Council is also issuing advice around the removal of fallen or damaged trees in Conservation Areas. Ewan Wallace continued: “We are aware that a large number of trees protected by Tree Preservation Orders or situated within Conservation Areas will have been affected by the recent extreme weather event. If, following advice from your tree surgeon, any further tree works are urgently necessary in the interests of safety, these can be carried without first seeking permission. You must however provide necessary evidence e.g. photographs, for this work to our Planning Service as soon as possible afterwards and again your tree surgeon will be able to advise on this.”  Anyone requiring further advice should email planning@aberdeenshire.gov.uk or call 01467 534333.

The council will continue to monitor forecasts but the advice as always is to be prepared, plan ahead and travel safely.