Dead wood is an essential habitat, providing food and shelter for countless tiny invertebrates and, in turn, a hunting ground for small mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles. Indeed, there is more life in dead than living wood.
“We can be very good at gardening for butterflies and bees, but we also need to look after the creatures that we don’t see,” says Laura Bower, conservation officer for the People’s Trust for Endangered Species. “There’s simply not enough dead wood around nowadays, as gardens are increasingly decked, paved or simply kept too tidy – yet decaying wood attracts all sorts of interesting creatures. Besides, it’s a lot easier to just leave it rather than try to remove it.”
Piling surplus logs and branches in your garden is also a great way to recycle: industrious molluscs, other invertebrates and fungi break it down and return the nutrients to the soil. Here are two super-simple ways to create dead wood habitat – a decorative stumpery or simple log pile.
Beloved by the Victorians to display ferns, stumperies are a great way to fill shady corners and can be as grand or simple as you like. Either use tree stumps (sourced from tree surgeons or builders) with their gnarled roots on display, or logs and timber offcuts, planted vertically at varying heights, for a contemporary feature. Simply dig out the soil and bury the bottom third of your chosen wood, then backfill, mixing in compost for planting. Ferns such as hart’s tongue are ideal – the rotting wood provides optimum growing conditions.
It’s as easy as it sounds. Simply pile up different-sized logs in a shady area of your garden, retaining a few gaps for access and burying the bottom row slightly to keep them nice and damp. Add bark, sticks and leaves to provide cover for amphibians and hedgehogs, and leave it to rot. You could plant shade-loving ferns, bluebells and primroses around the pile, and flowering climbers, such as clematis or honeysuckle, over the top. Make sure the wood stays moist in summer. Record your log pile and find more information at www.ptes.org/stagbeetles
Five other ways to use dead wood:
1. Make a bee hotel by burying the base of a post or log and drilling into it.
2. If you fell a tree, leave the stump or root system in situ. Have the trunk sawed into ‘slices’ 10–20cm thick and overlap these to make a contemporary stumpery.
3. Leave a few dead branches on trees for woodpeckers – they need decaying wood for feeding and nesting.
4. Leave piles of twigs in your garden to provide nesting materials for birds.
5. Stag beetles, mostly confined to southern England, need submerged, rotting wood to complete their life-cycle. If you live in a hotspot, burying posts or stumps 30cm deep will provide vital habitat.