Matt Baker: Stormy weather takes its toll

The fire is lit in the kitchen and as the wind blows around the farm we sit at the table reminiscing about some of the storms we have witnessed over the years.

The instigator was Dad, saying, “Remember when an owl sat in the fireplace and watched us?” It had been disoriented in a gusty storm and ended up falling from the chimney into the hearth – luckily not lit at the time! I learned at this point that owls are one of the only birds capable of vertical upward flight. As soon as he fell into the living room, he stood up and passed out again when he realized he was a long way from his usual perch in the woods.

The increased frequency and severity of storms have caused extensive damage to trees across the UK./Credit: Getty

There is evidence all over the farm of the power of nature as a storm sweeps through the valley, no more so than in the woods. Everyone who has seen our show Our farm in the Dales will know the size of some of the old oaks we are lucky to have in our ancient forests and the fact that they are sometimes victims of Durham storms. It’s a job and a half to clear the rides and access avenues to the woods if fallen trees end up blocking our path. Sometimes only chainsaws and mounted loggers can help remove the huge chunks of wood from the valley floor and transport them to the farm buildings.

Cleaning up after severe weather is a sobering task; the calm after a storm is often so calm that we pick up roofing sheets, slates, barrels and buckets that end up far from where they should be, often uncovered only after the winter snow has fallen. The latter is often piled up until Easter in the corners of the higher fields, as the wind blows any amount of snow into huge piles, easily covering the fence posts so that you cannot see the field boundaries in the valley .

It’s easy to laugh after the event, but climbing under the kitchen table where we sit for shelter from a thunderstorm is a reality. The house was struck twice by lightning, grounding itself on the phone line and blasting our broadband. When it comes to the farm, better safe than sorry if we hear of a storm brewing. Batting down the hatches, locking the stable doors, and chaining the doors together helps keep everything where it should be in the wind. Besides watching what I’m doing on Countryfile, at this time of year my mum and dad are, understandably, much more interested in what the TV Weather Center is reporting!

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