The thought of have piles of rotting logs in the garden isn't a particularly appealing one, but for the wildlife gardener a small bank of logs can be an invaluable source of insect life, a safe harbour for small mammals, reptiles and amphibians, and a sanctuary for over-wintering and hibernating wildlife.
Once the wood starts to decay it becomes a veritable engine room of life, perfectly evolved for supporting, specialised fungal, insect species and the larger predators that feed of them such as our native bats, reptiles and insect eating birds. In Britain, some 900 species of invertebrates live in or on dead wood alone, with different species of trees supporting a unique range of insects at each stage of its decay.
Thousands of years ago when Britain was covered by ancient woodlands and forests, the life cycle of trees dying, rotting, fertilizing the soil released new life back into the forest. This is a fundamental environmental life cycle that modern woodland and agricultural practices have massively reduced. With the rise of mankind wood from the forests played a crucial role in our society supplying fuel and building materials. Unfortunately this directly caused the destruction of woodland areas, particularly if the land was turned over to farming. More recently, modern forestry practice had begun to remove fallen dead wood in an attempt to keep our managed woodlands clean. This is done with a view to control the natural ‘pests and fungal diseases’ present in the forests, as well as to keep the place tidy.
There is a typical pattern of decay with dead wood which is largely the result of its colonization by other organisms such as wood-boring beetles, fungi, and bark beetles. These in turn attract predators and parasites including spiders, false scorpions, and specialist wasps which open up the wood to allowing more fungi to enter. Hover-flies, millipedes and mites are associated with the mid-stage of decay, and in the later stages the wood may even be used by small mammals.
Within the wildlife garden it’s the temporary visitors to the log piles that are perhaps the most important to us. With suburban gardens isolated from the majority of natural woodland and forest we are unable to attract many of the species that would ordinarily take on the role of breaking down our old wood. However these woody sanctuaries are vital for the various developmental stages of many garden insect larvae as well as creating a safe environment away from predators which would otherwise feed on our native reptiles and amphibians and mammals. You could be performing a valuable service in protecting species such as our common lizard, the common frog, the common toad, slow worms, grass snakes and hedgehogs - many of which are in decline. On freshly harvested wood, fresh wounds and seepages (sap plus rainwater) also be providing valuable feeding sites for hover-flies, hornets and butterflies.
Having a log pile in the garden isn't going to be to everyone’s taste ,but by having a open mind to using different species of indigenous wood within the garden - not covered by a thick coating of wood preserver – is still one step closer to halting the decline in our native wildlife.
For related articles click onto the following links:
RSPB Log piles
WHAT IS A DRY MULCH?
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