The 1987 storm that damaged millions of trees was not necessarily bad for the forests, as Stephen Goodwin, Heritage Correspondent, explains.

A rasping sound of concrete tiles sliding down the roof above the bedroom was my first intimation of the Great Storm. Outside it was certainly blowing a hooley.

Next came the sound of splintering glass. A neighbour's greenhouse had been hit. Peering out into the night, there was open sky where a large Douglas fir had stood.

Elsewhere in our town, Sevenoaks in Kent, the devastation was spectacular. The art hut at the kids' primary school had been crushed by a massive Scots pine. Much of the day was spent visiting favourite trees. The hollow oak hideaway in Knole Park had survived.

But a larch copse where we'd watched the season's colours change had been laid like a field of storm-battered corn.

Over the days and weeks that followed the "You live in 'One-oak'" joke became extremely tiresome. Amazingly, 10 years later, people still trot it out and preen themselves on their original wit. Ha bloody ha! So as a victim I feel modestly qualified to join in the orgy of Great Storm nostalgia and consider whether, with hindsight, it was a good or bad thing.

Unlike the trees, some things can never be replaced. Nineteen lives were lost in cruelly random fashion - a London vagrant crushed by a collapsing wall, a fisherman on Hastings beach struck by flying debris, motorists killed by falling trees, two hotel guests hit by crashing chimney pots and two firemen killed as they answered an emergency call in Dorset. For their families, the storm will always be a black event.

Damage to man's creations and financial losses seemed impressive at the time but arouse little interest in retrospect.

Some residents of Shanklin on the Isle of Wight may still miss their old pier, but Brighton Pavilion looks as bizarely exotic as ever - despite a 3-ton minaret plunging into the music room - and doubtless the insurance companies have somehow recouped the pounds 1.4bn they coughed up in claims.

In the nation's collective memory though, the Great Storm was really about trees. Whole woods were laid waste as if in some Vietnam-style carpet bombing. Aerial photographs showed plantations reduced to scattered matchwood. The odd great trunk stood in isolation, but plucked of its boughs. Some 15 million trees were brought down within four hours as winds gusting at over 100mph swept across south-east England.

But foresters and conservationists who were as appalled as anyone else that October morning now look back on it as "a good thing on balance". First it woke people up to the importance of trees in their local landscapes. During the previous 50 years south-east England had lost 40 per cent of its deciduous trees and hardly anyone had noticed.

"The storm made many people realise just how much they valued trees and woods," said Mike Townsend, chief executive of the Woodland Trust.

"Although the damage was concentrated in the South-east, the impact of the loss of old and majestic trees from some of our famous landscapes and gardens was felt nationally."

Membership of the Trust, the largest UK charity dedicated solely to the protection of native woodland, soared by 20 per cent in the wake of the storm.

The task for the Trust is making people aware that the greatest threat to woodland is not hurricane-force wind but man and his appetite for new roads and property development.

Nature responded to the so-called disaster with a vigour that has surprised ecologists. Ten years on, dormice are thriving in Ashenbank Wood, near Cobham in Kent, because fallen hornbeam and oak has created the aerial walkways the arboreal creatures need to traverse the wood for food and sex. Their survival from the days when Ashenbank was coppiced was not even suspected.

Elsewhere the reduction in the tree canopy and the creation of glades has aided butterflies and resulted in spectacular displays of spring flowers. Primroses, bluebells, foxgloves and the rare lady orchid are among species that have prospered in the extra light. In the New Forest a "string of sausages" was re-discovered - a type of lichen thought locally extinct but revealed through crown damage.

David Russell, head of forestry for the National Trust, emphasised how much foresters themselves had learnt from nature's response. "The more we understand about the natural changes, the better we are able to manage woodland."

Some 3,000 acres of National Trust woodland were hit. At Toys Hill, Kent, there was 95 per cent damage to the plateau of beech woodlands. But this was originally heathland and the storm has enabled the Trust to revive tracts of heather and bilberry.

Mr Russell has also been impressed by the benefit of leaving timber to rot where it has fallen. Beetles and fungi thrive, nutrients are slowly released and in the micro-climate created fallen trunks and branches young trees can get a good start, unmolested by browsing deer.