IT’S the story that begins with a dismissive weatherman and ends in death and a trail of destruction. Last month marked 35 years since the Great Storm of 1987 hit large parts of the UK – bringing down millions of trees with it. To this day it remains the storm that all others across Britain are judged against. 

The milestone provided the chance for members of the Forest Machine Operators Blog to reminiscence about the episode, which for many drew them into forestry. 

Forestry Journal: Alan PrettyjohnAlan Prettyjohn (Image: Bites)

For some of our younger readers – the ones who were born after VHS tapes had long since gone out of fashion – let’s quickly recap. On the night of October 15, 1987, all was quiet and all was still, when suddenly devastation reigned. With winds gusting at up to 100 mph, there was massive damage caused as a cyclone made its way across the country. At least 18 people were killed and about 15 million trees were blown down. Many fell on to roads and railways, causing major transport delays.

Six of the seven eponymous oaks in Sevenoaks and historic specimens in Kew Gardens and Wakehurst Place were among the trees lost during the storm. 

Famously, BBC weatherman the late Michael Fish, in the hours before the storm hit, had dismissed one worried caller, telling millions of viewers: “Earlier on today, apparently, a woman rang the BBC and said she heard there was a hurricane on the way. Well, if you’re watching, don’t worry, there isn’t!” 

Forestry Journal: Brandon Murphy Brandon Murphy (Image: Bites)

He since claimed he was misquoted, but the fact remains – nothing quite like the Great Storm has been seen since (at least not until last year’s Storm Arwen). 

As a result of the storm and the clear-up needed, it turned into something of a boom for foresters, operators, and tree surgeons across the country, as members recalled on the Blog. 

Kicking the conversation off, an operator wrote: “It was 35 years ago tonight that I got that call from Hampshire County Council at 3.30am to say: ‘We’ve a few problems with trees, can you help?’ Well, within half an hour, I was out with my John Deere loading shovel and fork, saws, etc, and as they say the rest is history.”

Others certainly shared his experience. 

“We were several months just opening roads, and still clearing windblow eight years later,” another member recalled, while one operator told of his struggle to escape from the woods. 

“I was in a caravan with my dad up on the north Norfolk coast (my first year at work). All we did was cut our way out of the wood. That took a while.” 

Throughout the chat on the Blog, many members revealed it was their first-ever forestry experience – and for some at an age where they could barely lift a chainsaw. 

“I was 12 and went down with my dad and uncle,” one said. “I remember dad telling everyone I was 16. Dad always said that windblow paid for the house and lorries he bought. Good old days are the best.”

Forestry Journal: Tom Robinson Tom Robinson (Image: Bites)

Whether or not Arwen proves in time to have been just as devastating as the Great Storm remains to be seen – although it certainly seemed like it was up there – but at least those kinds of disasters bring out the best in the industry. 

That’s certainly the way another member saw it. 

“Lost a lot of real good trees in that one, but through it gained a lot of good outfits. The hardest times bring forward the best of men. 

“Thankfully, some good men are still around.” 

The last word goes to one operator who must have been in for a shock when he woke up. At least if he had been paying attention to a certain Mr Fish. 

He confessed: “I slept right through it!” 

Forestry Journal: Oran DohertyOran Doherty (Image: Bites)

Moving on to more up-to-date matters and the Blog remains one of the best places for operators to receive advice on all things forestry. After all, who better placed to advise on machines – and their various problems – than the people who use them every day? 

That was very much the case when one member sent out a plea for help. 

“Was looking for some info on a high production grapple for a 1910G,” he wrote, while sharing a stunning image of the John Deere in action. “Not liking the factory one. Any comments or opinions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.” 

In typical style (one thing users on the page can’t be accused of is being shy), members obliged.

“Gripen 40 on mine, it’s been a good grab,” said one. 

“Loglift grapples are awesome,” said another. “Maybe a bit expensive but worth it.” 

Forestry Journal: Robert Meirion Owen Robert Meirion Owen (Image: Bites)

“Hultdins HD,” one responded. “We just put a .36HD in our 1510G and what a grab. Very well made, really heavy duty; well worth a look. Also won’t really affect you but it’s a bit narrower than the Gripen, so on small specs it’s just a little bit easier between the pins.” 

But, the general consensus seemed to be that Gripen was the best around. It was by far and away the most recommended brand – one member jokingly replied: “Did someone already say Gripen?” – with even Mark Curtis, founder of the blog, agreeing. 

“Won’t beat HSP Gripen,” he said. “Best grab around.” 

Well, that clears that up then. 

Finally, readers who have already scoured this issue’s news pages will be familiar with the story of George Gilder and his lovely new wife Gemma. The pair recently wed and, seeking to ensure the day went over in style, he brought along a John Deere forwarder and harvester (any bride who’ll let their husband do that on their big day is definitely a keeper!). 

Sharing pictures on the Blog, George couldn’t hide his excitement. And members responded in kind. 

READ MORE: George Gilder: John Deere machines star at operator's wedding

“Well done, George! I would call that dedication; mixing business with pleasure. What wine did you have at the reception? All the best, George and new wife. Have the best of both worlds.” 

“Love all these pictures, but the guys and girls standing on the machine are my favourites!” 

Forestry Journal:

“Great photos. Congratulations. I was left in charge of sorting the vehicle out for our wedding. Nobody said anything about a car.” 

“Congratulations from the John Deere Forestry Joensuu factory.” 

“Memorable photos of your special day. Congratulations to you both.” 

“Wow! That’s awesome! Congratulations. I like your machines. I work in the woods operating heavy equipment.”

Many congratulations to the happy couple from all of us! You can follow the conversation by checking out the Forest Machine Operators Blog on Facebook.