The roots of a fallen 260 year old cedar tree at Charlecote Park in Warwickshire. Image provided courtesy of The National Trust.
The roots of a fallen 260 year old cedar tree at Charlecote Park in Warwickshire. Image provided courtesy of The National Trust.

Storm Babet: a ‘taste of things to come,’ says NT

9 min


Widespread damage to National Trust properties, landscapes and gardens

One of the country’s leading conservation charities is reporting a ‘trail of destruction’ following the aftermath of Storm Babet.

The National Trust has issued a list of key areas which were severely affected by the weather event.

It notes how the volume of water temporarily overwhelmed the hydroelectric system  at Cragside.

The Northumberland property was the first home in the world to be powered by the power of water which earned it the moniker of ‘the palace of the modern magician.’

The charity reported that the deluge eroded pathways in the Peak District with the storm causing gardens and parkland to become waterlogged by swollen rivers. The resulting damage affected bridges and children’s play areas.

Only swift action by collection teams at Hardwick Hall and Belton House allowed for the preservation of historic books – and historically significant decorations inside the properties.

Moving the book collections for safekeeping at hardwick Hall, Derbyshire. Image provided courtesy of The National Trust.

Sadly, there were a number of trees, which were hundreds of years old, fell during the high winds. This included an 18th-century cedar planted as part of landscape work by ‘Capability’ Brown.

The recent storm’s persistent rain impacted properties in the Midlands and in the North East of England.

Consequences of climate change: frequency of more extreme weather events

‘We know that one of the consequences of climate change will be the frequency of more extreme weather events, and we experienced the direct impact of the prolonged levels of rainfall and high winds on our places last week,’ says Harry Bowell, Head of Land and Nature at the National Trust.

‘We recognise we need to adapt our places to cope with the likelihood of these extreme weather events.’

‘We are already doing that through establishing trees and woodlands, restoring peatlands to hold more water in our landscapes.’

‘And through our work to re-connect rivers with their floodplains to create new areas of wetland to again help hold the water back in times of heavy and persistent rainfall.’

‘It is now more important than ever that we play our part to adapt to our changing weather patterns as well as implementing more measures to tackle climate change.’

‘But we also need more urgent and wide-ranging investment and action to address these issues by governments and leaders across the country.’

At the world-famous Cragside in Northumberland, the first house in the world to be powered by hydroelectricity, relentless rain fell onto the two sides of the Coquet valley. 

Over a 48-hour period, water flowed down the hillsides into the lakes on the grounds and surrounding area causing water levels in the River Coquet to rise from its usual 0.4 metres to 3.27 metres. 

World famous Cragside: first house to be powered by hydroelectricity

Ironically, engineers also believe that rising water levels and sheer volume of water overwhelmed the Archimedes Screw, causing it to temporarily stop working.

It was installed in 2014 to generate hydro-electricity to light Cragside House, and to help with the National Trust’s renewable energy commitment to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels and reach net zero by 2030.   

‘It’s been years since I’ve seen water levels like this at Cragside,’ says  John O’Brien, General Manager at Cragside.

‘The lakes were exceptionally full and water was moving rapidly along Debdon Burn that passes under the Iron Bridge.’

‘With the extra rainfall, water thundered through the Gorge at a pace creating a dramatic waterfall.’

‘When the water met the already overflowing River Coquet, it backed up and flooded the historic hydroelectric Powerhouse, partially submerging some of the original, Victorian dynamos and turbines in silty water.’

In the Peak District a deluge of water rushed down the hillsides and overpowered river networks causing flooding and eroding hundreds of metres footpaths and damaging fences, walls and bridges.

The team at Longshaw has already spent more than 82 hours of work to complete just half of the work needed to repair the damage that has been identified so far, but there is still more to do.

Exploring ways to build more resilient infrastructures    

As well as repairs, work has also started to explore ways to build more resilient infrastructure to cope with future weather conditions.

‘I was among many people in the Peak District and surrounding towns and villages who had a very frightening drive home,’ explains Craig Best, General Manager in the Peak District.

‘The chaos and devastation the storm caused to homes, businesses, roads and transport systems in the area is truly shocking.’ 

‘It certainly brings it home how vulnerable we are to extreme weather events like this when you see it unfold.’

‘Let’s not forget though, in good condition the uplands of the Peak District can hold the key to reducing the impact of extreme weather conditions like this. They could be our first line of defence.’

‘If we restore peatlands, plant and allow the natural regeneration of more trees, and improve soil health here we can help to store and slow the flow of water into our rivers, streams and reservoirs.’

‘We’ve started this work, with partners and tenants, but we need to do more and faster.  We need to ensure the importance of restoring our uplands, for nature and for people, is recognised, and secure investment to carry out the work needed.’

At Carding Mill Valley and the Long Mynd in Shropshire, the volume of water was such, it has eroded away some of banks of the Ashbrooke river.

Storm Babet: Eroding away river banks

The damage to the riverbank is being monitored as some cracks have appeared. The flooding has also resulted in the transportation of lots of rocks from higher up the valley, which have been carried downstream.

At Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, home to an 18th-century Pleasure Ground and 800-acre, wildlife-rich parkland, the storm caused structural damage to a wooden footbridge on the lakeside walk and washed away bench seats.

In the Dutch garden at Belton, the Father Time sundial is encroached by water. Image provided courtesy of The National Trust.

On the Wallington Estate in Northumberland, 93.9mm of rain fell over the course of two days. It resulted in the River Wansbeck to spill over onto the River Walk causing both bank and path erosion.

The rainfall also caused a tributary to the river to swell to very high levels with concerns that it could potentially damage the beaver enclosure, home to a family of beavers released in July. 

Thankfully the team has since assessed the site and seen signs of beaver activity within the enclosure.

Fortunately, recent dam works on the garden pond just outside the walled garden meant it was able to withstand the storm deluge, protecting the walled garden and its retaining wall.

High winds blew a stone ball off one of its garden gates and toppled a veteran sessile oak tree which had been planted more than 250 years ago.

Cedar of Lebanon

At Charlecote Park in Warwickshire, a 260-year old Cedar of Lebanon came down in the deer park, probably due to the weight of water brought by Storm Babet.

The tree is thought to have been planted in the 1760s as part of improvements made by ‘Capability’ Brown. Large areas of the parkland were closed due to flooding, storm damage and waterlogged ground. 

And, at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, the team reacted quickly to move the 300-strong book collection in the Long Gallery due to the rain leaking through the east side windows – with the collections sitting directly underneath. 

There was no damage to the books. The collection here includes books from the library of pioneering scientist Henry Cavendish (1731-1810), who calculated the density of the Earth.

At Belton House in Lincolnshire, the sheer volume of rainfall overwhelmed guttering and water leaked into a number of windows, including the Chinese Bedroom, which is lined with highly significant hand-painted wallpaper hung in 1830. 

Staff used padding to soak up water trickling down the paper and used a dehumidifier to prevent mould developing. Fortunately, no staining is visible and the historic adhesive is intact, but its condition will be closely monitored by conservators.

The River Witham also burst its banks, causing significant flooding in the pleasure grounds and children’s playground which is now under repair.

‘Our garden teams are doing an amazing job, working hard to repair and reinstate damaged areas and we are so grateful for their efforts in such difficult conditions,’ says Andy Jasper, Director of Gardens and Parklands at the National Trust.

Planning for the future and likelihood of more extreme weather events

‘These extreme weather events are likely to become more frequent as a sign of the rapidly changing climate.’

‘With more than 220 gardens and parklands across the National Trust, we are doing everything we can to make these historic gardens as future-proof as possible.’

‘This includes thinking longer term for extremes of heat, choosing more drought tolerant plants, creating path surfaces that are more resilient and caring for our lawns and soil so they are less prone to waterlogging.’

‘These are just some of the many steps we are taking which will help our gardens thrive into the future.’

‘All of this underlines just how important people’s support to our charity is – the costs of adapting the places we look after to extreme weather events are only going to increase.’

The clear-up operation is likely to take several weeks. The Trust is advising visitors to sites in the Midlands and north of England to check property websites before setting out as some areas may be closed for repairs. 

Donations to help towards the clear up work and ongoing conservation work to protect National Trust places from the impacts of climate change.

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