UNTIL PROFESSIONAL teams can clear up the many trees left windblown by Storm Arwen, the public is being urged to stay away from Scotland's forests.

Forestry and Land Scotland said that it was continuing to assess the levels of damage to Scotland’s national forests – and the associated risks to public safety.

FLS chief executive Simon Hodgson said: “The high winds – that in some coastal areas reached 100mph – have blown down a number of trees at many of our forests, blocking trails and forest roads, and causing other damage.

“The combination of windblown trees and icy conditions is hazardous but there is also the risk posed by hanging trees – those that have been blown over but have been caught on standing trees. These can be highly unstable and can fall with little or no warning," said Mr Hodgson.

“Windblown trees and damaged roads also prohibit access for emergency vehicles so we are asking members of the public to help us by staying away for the moment. We don’t want anyone risking their personal safety – or potentially their life – by venturing in to our forests until such time as we can declare them safe.”

FLS teams are already working across the country, but warn 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.

Andy Leitch, deputy chief executive of Confor, which represents the forestry and wood-using industry, said: "We are aware of damage to forests across large areas of the east coast, including Aberdeenshire and The Scottish Borders. We are liaising with the public forestry bodies to assess the scale of the damage.

“The scale of the storm means it will take time to clear the damage and we would reiterate the advice from Forestry and Land Scotland to avoid forest walks, particularly because of the continuing threat from part-fallen trees. As always in these circumstances, the industry will pull together to ensure any areas which are regularly accessed by the public are made safe as soon as possible."

Farmers and crofters across Scotland were this week counting the cost of Storm Arwen. Early reports from NFU Scotland members around the country indicate that the damage to some businesses is substantial, with many still waiting on roads to open and power and telecommunications to be restored. The list includes severe damage to buildings and structures, both large and small, including roofs, walls, cladding and polytunnels.

One member has estimated that the structural damage to his business is approximately £70,000. Another has recorded that an acre of Sitka Spruce trees on his farm has been blown down. As members start to assess the total scale of the damage, it is already apparent that it will run into many millions.

NFUS president Martin Kennedy said: “From personal experience, I know how extreme the storm was. There will have been hundreds of trees blown down on our own estate near Aberfeldy and Sunday was spent helping clear roads and driveways to allow people access to and from their homes and get services into the area to reconnect electricity and telephone services.

“Much of the damage will have been insurable and we have already contacted our partners in NFU Mutual for an update on the storm’s impact," added Mr Kennedy. "Our extensive network of group secretaries and Mutual agents across Scotland will be working hard with our members today, helping them assess and start the process of restarting and recovering from the impact of the storm. Some of our offices in the North East remain out of electricity but calls are being diverted.

“Many parts of the country remain without power, internet service and phones and these may not be up and running until nearer the end of this week. I would ask our members to take the time to check on nearby friends and neighbours and see if they need any assistance.

“Given the severe disruption, it is a good time to remind all that Scotland’s rural charity, RSABI, is there to help and the helpline number, which operates from 7am until 11pm, is on 0300 111 4166.”

Scotland's Deputy First Minister John Swinney has chaired a meeting of the Scottish Government’s Resilience Room on the continuing impacts of Storm Arwen and has been briefed that the recovery is going to be greater and more challenging than first anticipated.

Mr Swinney said: “The scale of the damage caused by Storm Arwen is worse than we first feared and as a result our recovery will take longer than anticipated. We know this will create significant challenges for communities and households still affected by the storm’s impacts and I want to reassure them we are doing everything we can, liaising with local resilience partnerships, to focus efforts and resources.

“We have been working closely and at pace with power companies who are maximising efforts to restore services to households currently without power. Plans are being put in place for further assistance to respond to the longer than expected recovery and we are concentrating getting power restored for vulnerable people and those who need it most.

“In extremely challenging circumstances we have seen an outstanding response from local resilience partnerships who have been providing vital support to local residents and I would like to thank them for their continuing efforts.”