Steve and Hazel have sent me this photograph of a log pile that they created in their garden. I know that other members of the group have also created their own. And why not! Decaying wood is a great bio-diverse habitat providing a home for fungi, insects, spiders and small animals. Wrens enjoy ducking and diving into the gaps in search of food. Log piles are easy to create, any kind of logs can be used and it doesn’t really matter where you put them – in the sun, in the shade, wet or dry. All that will happen is that different communities of animals are attracted to each created habitat. The only rule is not to remove logs from woodland sites – it is probably illegal and any creatures that already occupy the wood will be unlikely to survive the transfer to a new environment. Start with new wood and then leave the pile undisturbed.
This is what Hazel and Steve did and now all they have to do is ….. nothing! A good variation of the traditional log pile is to stand the logs vertically by digging them into holes or short trenches. This puts some of the wood below ground. This provides additional “niche” habitat and this kind of log pile is often called a “beetle castle”. Here is one in our garden but to be honest I am not very keen on digging. But why bother to create log piles for your garden? Last spring Sally and I had to move a wood pile that we had created some years ago.
We did it as carefully as we could but we still disturbed these 3 stag beetle larvae. There were probably others at a lower level but we stopped as this point and carefully buried the larvae in situ. I hope they survived.We see stag beetles in our garden most years. Our part of Kent is a stronghold for stag beetles – find out more here.
However, having said all of this, you may be surprised to learn that log piles in the wider countryside are not good practice. The “log pile” was, and still is, a temporary convenient station for cut logs as part of wood extraction. A log pile is where wood was stacked to await removal. Many years ago, I read the RSPB Handbook for Woodland Management (although not a No. 1 Best Seller at the time it was good bed-time reading for some!). So here is a quick summary.
Don’t cut the tree down if you don’t have to. Leave the old ones to get older – cull the young. The tree shown here is one of the magnificent ancient oaks at Lullingstone Park. Even when it eventually does die, it will still be a good habitat for wildlife for years after. If the tree is dying and is a “Health and Safety” problem (overhanging limbs, etc) then reduce the tree back towards the trunk and leave as much standing as possible. There are some good examples of this locally in the National Trust woodland at Cobham. If the whole tree has to be felled see if there is a nearby tree to which the trunk can be strapped upright so that it decays as standing timber. There are some really good examples of this locally in the Woodland Trust’s Ashenbank Wood. If this is not an option then the felled tree should be left, on the ground, where it falls, without cutting it up into small pieces.
The reasoning behind all of these wood management options is to follow as closely as possible the natural processes of dying or fallen wind-blown trees. Talking to the warden at the Cobham woodland recently, I also learnt that when he removes large branches he tries to create the damaged and jagged edge that would result if the branch had fallen naturally (no neat cut edge). The decaying end of the branch could, in a few years time, be the home for a little owl. Of course, our gardens are not natural woodland, but a log pile is an excellent start. For more “garden wildlife” ideas I suggest a visit to the Kent Wildlife Trust reserve at Sevenoaks where they have a demonstration garden.
Thanks to Steve and Hazel for the photograph of their log pile. Thanks to Sally for the other pictures.