Make a log shelter
Dead wood is full of living things! Rotting wood is both home and food for various beetle grubs and a vast army of other mini-beasts. All these creatures make a tasty snack for birds, hedgehogs and frogs.
Log piles are also a damp, cool retreat in the heat of summer, and a frost-free hibernation site in winter. For both these reasons they’re popular with amphibians once they’ve left the water after breeding. Perhaps the most spectacular garden deadwood denizen is the 50mm stag beetle, which is found in light soils south of a line from the Wash to Bristol. Its larva will stay in old wood for up to six years before emerging as an adult to mate.
Five ways to use logs in the garden
You can get logs from tree surgeons or firewood dealers. If you’re lucky, some pieces may already contain beetle grubs which could hatch and populate your garden. Native wood is best, but really anything will do.
Scattered in a border. Handy for keeping plants apart and mulching the soil – but you’ll get more animal life from a concentrated stack
Neat and tidy. As often seen in coppiced woodlands. Maximises the cool, moist, shady effect for a particular log size.
Higgledey piggledy. The ‘natural’ way to do it, and great for architectural impact. But it can create remarkably little shade.
Organ pipes. Sunken wood creates the most micro-climate possibilities. Especially recommended in the Thames Valley (using native wood) for stag beetles. If you can’t bury your logs, heaped wood chippings are another way to help stag beetles.
Giant cheese. If you can get a real ‘wagon wheel’ log, it will create the most stable environment of all underneath. Superb for amphibian hibernation.
Diagrams courtesy of Bird Watching magazine, www.birdwatchingmag.blogspot.com
Five log pile thrillers.
- Devil’s coach horse. Odd-looking predatory beetle which curls its tail defensively – even at humans. Reportedly eats vine weevil, a rapidly-spreading plant pest.
- Lithobius centipede. Up close, a gorgeous honey-brown critter with huge poison fangs. An invertebrate methuselah, it may live for four years.
- Lesser stag beetle. Often arrives hidden in firewood logs as a large grub. Save any with signs of holes or rot, and adults may emerge in June.
- Common toad. May live for 10 years if you provide a friendly garden and hefty log pile hibernation site. Likes sparser ponds than frogs and newts.
- Woodlouse. ‘Piggies’ are eaten by birds and specialised Dysdera spiders whose jaws can pierce human skin.