Britain was once almost completely covered by woodland and the natural cycle of dead wood breaking down and fertilising the soil to advance the growth of new trees continued uninterrupted.
Since the 1930s we have lost almost half of this natural wildlife habitat to modern agricultural and lifestyle practices which means opportunities for the decomposers and other creatures that live in the decaying wood have been really compromised.
The good news is that we don’t have to reforest our gardens to provide this much needed habitat. A small pile of logs can support a multitude of different insects, provide a refuge and hunting ground for small mammals, reptiles and amphibians, and shelter for over-wintering and hibernating wildlife. Fungi, wood-boring insects, woodlice, beetle grubs and wood wasps all find homes and food in the logs. These are all prey for other animals: spiders, frogs, toads hedgehogs and birds. A simple pile of logs can very quickly become a flourishing wildlife community.
In your garden
- Damp conditions behind peeling bark are very inviting for woodlice, spiders and beetles, while butterflies and ladybirds take up residence in the drier parts over winter.
- A view of a log pile might not necessarily complement the rest of the garden. Tuck it away behind the shed, or at the back of a border.
- As a precaution avoid placing the pile too close to living trees and shrubs as bacteria and disease can be harboured in decaying logs. Particularly destructive is honey fungus, which can grow on dead logs but spread to living trees and shrubs and kill them in a short space of time. See the link below for more information.
- Don’t disturb dead wood that’s still standing, unless it’s potentially dangerous. Dead branches left on the tree benefit many creatures, especially woodpeckers. If a tree has to be felled, leave the stump in situ.
- Strangely, getting hold of logs may require a little imagination. Taking dead wood from the wild is not a good idea as it always benefits wildlife more if left where it has fallen. It may also be illegal to gather it in certain places. Friends and neighbours who are having treework done can be a good starting place or get in touch with a local tree surgeon. Hardwood is better than softwood and ideally it should have its bark.
- Plant ferns, bluebells and primroses around and about for a woodland feel. A log pile or stump can also be greatly beautified by growing flowering climbers over it, for example, clematis or honeysuckle. This is like adding an extra floor to a wildlife apartment block.
- Use different lengths of logs but nothing too twiggy. Bury the lower logs into the soil a few centimeters. This keeps them damp and the resident creatures happy.
- There’s not much to discuss in the way of maintenance, the idea is really to leave the pile alone. However, In periods of drought, it could help to turn the hosepipe on it for a bit, and maybe add more logs as it begins to disintegrate.
- While all your good work can be swiftly undone if you actually dismantle the log pile, carefully lifting a log gives you a great view of a secret and fascinating micro world. Brilliant for children as well.
- Provide instant housing for solitary bees by drilling random holes in the logs.
- Locating a log pile near a pond provides a convenient bolt hole and hibernation site for frogs, toads and other amphibians and greatly increases their chances of survival.