Deadwood … good wood

There is great ‘natural’ value in deadwood, as Sarah Smyth of our Ecoystems and Biodiversity team explains.

Trees contribute a huge amount as living organisms providing shelter and ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, pollution reduction, water runoff reduction , aesthetic and cultural value as well as potentially providing food and shelter.  Periodically stormy winds batter us and trees, and branches fall down. There is a huge temptation to tidy up the fallen materials. But before you do, spare a thought for all the animals that use piles of deadwood for shelter and food.

Wood stacked in to a logpile for biodiversity. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Wood stacked in to a logpile for biodiversity. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Deadwood can persists for as long as it was alive, supporting a new range of species.  Rather than tidy up all fallen wood and logs, leave a small pile tucked away and very quickly it will become home to lots of animals.  About 20% of woodland species need dead wood at some point for food or shelter.  No matter what stage of rotting the deadwood is at – there will be an insect or fungi that will be ready to take hold and turn it into dinner.

A wood wasp. ©Lorne Gill

A wood wasp.
©Lorne Gill

The good news is that this means less work for the gardener, rather than clearing messy deadwood from a area, tuck it into a pile in a shady corner somewhere and leave it be, very soon, fungi, lichens and bryophytes will establish, these in turn provide protection for lots of invertebrates, which can provide a tasty snack for birds, mammals and amphibians, look out later in the year for hedgehogs nestling under the wood.

Over time the logs will break down as they are nibbled and burrowed into – natures clearing squad do their job and you don’t need to.

Long-horn beetle, Taynish NNR, Argyll. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Long-horn beetle, Taynish NNR, Argyll. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Deadwood in sunny areas does also has a value – to different species. So it shouldn’t be disregarded. Species such as wasps, ichneumons in particular like dry, warm, wood to gather material, for nest building and to lay their eggs in. Also certain deadwood invertebrates need habitat in warmer spots. So, as is often the case, it’s about having a “bit of everything” if possible.

For more information on managing deadwood see Managing deadwood in forests and woodlands$file/FCPG020.pdf

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Did you know ?

Most dead wood recycling is done by hundreds of different fungi because they are the only species that produce enzymes that can break down wood!

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