On the 18th September 1992 a great hail storm hit Foulness Island killing over 3 thousand birds, the following are excerpts from a report that Mollie Drake wrote for the South Essex Naturalist society.
The Great Hailstorm, by Mollie Drake
At 3 o'clock in the morning on Friday the 18t September 1992, I expect most people locally were, like me, awake and glad not be out-of-doors while a most spectacular thunderstorm was in progress, with almost continuous lightning and thunder, and rainfall sounding like a tropical storm.
On Foulness , it wasn't just rain that fell. A resident, Muriel Hume, later told me that at about 2.45 a.m, when she and her family were listening to the storm. There was loud bang as something hit the roof. There was a moment's silence, then suddenly all hell broke loose as the house was bombarded from above. When they looked out, hailstones "as big as golf balls" were bouncing up as they hit the ground. They feared that the windows would be broken. This went on for what seemed like hours but might only have been a few minutes.
Staff arriving on the Island for work that morning saw that the roadside gutters were full of what looked like snow. Hailsones were still lying on the ground. Some when measured, were found to be 1 3/4 inches in diameter, and that was five hours after the storm. Some were collected and put in freezers, to be photogtaphed later with golf balls for comparison.
THe roofs of greenhouses in Churchend village were smashed, but not the side panels I was told. Cars and M.O.D. Landrovers which had been outside were pitted with dents, and "soft tops" slashed as if knives. Courtend village escaped damage.
After discussion with Maureen Rudge, a member of our wildfowl count team, I telephoned the M.O.D. and was given permission to visit the Island when the ranges stopped work at 4pm. We drove over there to check the damage to wild birds. In Jerry wood, Henry Huhme who rings birds there, showed us the casualties he had found in it, Pheasants, Magpies and a Beautiful male Sparrowhawk - all dead, injured Pheasants and a Turtle Dove still alive but with no hope of recovery. The ground was littered with fresh green leaves and young shoots which had been torn off the bushes and small trees. I took the Sparrowhawk to Southend Central Museum.
At the coast the scene was quite horrific, gulls wandering about with broken wings or standing around dazed, dead waders on the shore. We knew we could not possibly cope with rescue efforts that night and planned to enlist the help of as many wildfowl count team as possible, to work over the weekend. Outside Gerry Hume's home was a pathetic pile of casaulties that he had found, including another male Sparrowhawk. In his car a vet dazed Barn Owl was standing queitly. The Barn Owl was later 'taken into care' and when fully recovered, released onto ots home ground.
Next morning we decided to search the coast first, splitting into two groups and meeting in the middle. The shore was strewn with dead birds, many survivors must have succumbed overnight. Most of the live birds found were too badly injured to have a chance of recovery and were destroyed. We collected the dead birds in sacks. Some Bar- tailed Godwit not only had broken wings but broken bills as well. Many birds had protruding eyes, consistent with a severe blow to the head, one RSPCA officers told me.
Inspector Scott realised that more help was needed and left to organise it, he returned with three others including a marksman who shot injured birds out of reach of the bborrowdykes. Some less injured birds were taken away to be cared for. The sacks of dead birds were collected by a farmer and buried in a pit specially dug for that purpose.
The mudflats showed striking evidence of the effect of the hailstones. Even after two tides they were closely pitted with the round impressions of the stones. The size varied, some nearly as big as the lens cap of my camera which is 2 inches across (50.8mm). The sides of the gullies in the saltings were simarly pitted very closely, the holes slotted deeply where the stones had struck downwards. The force with which they fell is indicated by the size of some of the victims, birds as big as Herons, a number of Hares, even a sheep. Cattle panicked, one of the herd was injured and had to be distroyed.
At the end of collecting and on counting it was found that a total of 3,236 dead birds were retrieved. We shall never know how many were lost, hidden in gullies on the saltings or washed out to sea. For once it was not a man made disaster, but I for one never want to see such a sight again.
Interview with John Burroughs, a farmer on Foulness.
John recollects that at three in the morning it woke him up and did a tremendous amount of damage, the noise on the tile roof was like a lot of people with broom handles thumping end down Deafening you couldn’t well it was scary.When it became daylight we had a look round, a lot of wild life was killed, we picked up several hundred partridges they roost in round cubbies a circle area on the ground about 20 metres across and they all laid dead apart from an odd one that was stunned and just took off and disappeared skywards.
It appeared that the storm ran north to south, you could tell that by the amount of vegetation cut down in the swath across the island some of the game crops particularly kale, the broad leaf was reduced to the centre stem, so you got a lot of sticks sticking up, there are stories of Hares that were killed, there was a question mark on whether a sheep had been killed but that may have been other circumstances. It does sound a bit dramatic.
My vehicle at the time I had to have it completely restored it had broken glass in the rear, windscreen, wing mirror, and nice golf ball dents all over the bonnet and the roof.
A chap who worked for us photographed one of them (hail stones) and it was almost identical in size to a golf ball, that wasn’t the norm the majority were marble size perhaps a bit bigger.
I believe that there was around three thousand head of gulls etc, which were recovered from the island by the RSPB.
John runs a shoot business from the island and when we asked how his business was affected he replied.
We assessed that we had lost thirty percent of our game through the storm, it killed them on their roost, we had got our first shoot that week after, but we had to do a quick assessment to see what we could do obviously that shoot was ok but come the end of the season it had a dramatic effect on the numbers that we were expecting to see later on in the year.
John thought the storm lasted for half an hour it went through very fast, at the height it obviously woke me up so I don’t really know when it started but it couldn’t have been anymore by the amount of damage it caused and the heaviest of it was a swath about half a mile across running north to south or from Burnham to Whitstable.