This page is regularly updated, please select here to view the latest version.
Let’s talk rot; well rotting wood to be precise. Wood that is left to rot in situ or turned into log piles and allowed to decay, is ironically, the very stuff of life and one of the most important habitats for biodiversity.
As trees age they begin to decay, often from the inside out. Britain is fortunate in having many ancient trees and often their trunks are completely hollowed out. White rot and red rot fungi attack the heartwood whilst the sapwood remains viable and reducing the weight of a tree in this way, can help to stabilise it and extend it’s life. Other saprotrophic fungi such as the deliciously named jelly rot fungus send out a network of hyphae (think cables) that feed on cellulose and lignin within the wood and convert it to softer material which aids the decomposition process. Add to this thousands of invertebrate species, that as well as calling this environment home, also assist in the breakdown of plant material by burrowing and munching their way through the wood, and in death, there is a veritable flourishing of life. The decomposing detritus is returned to the soil in the form of organic materials to sustain the cycle of life. An astonishing fact gleaned from ‘Trees for Life’ is that the biomass of earthworms in broadleaved forests in Europe is estimated at one tonne per hectare….and that’s an awful lot of earthworms!
So what has this got to do with the Rec, I hear you ask. Some of you may have seen that a tree was recently uprooted and lying on the ground near the tennis courts….fortunately not hurting anyone in the process. It did have some handsome bracket fungus on the trunk, although I’m not sure of the species of tree or fungus. (Please let me know if you do) Anyway this tree is hopefully going to reappear as a couple of log piles on the edge of the garden area. Not your average garden feature and maybe a little untidy looking for some, but please remember that it has the potential to support a wealth of life. Depending on the location, species, stage of decomposition etc, dead and dying wood provides a habitat for 1,800 invertebrate species. They in turn encourage predators such as frogs, toads, birds and hedgehogs to feed and sometimes shelter in the log pile. That’s before you even count the fungi, mosses, liverworts and lichens that can also occur.
Of particular relevance to the Rec is the fact that we host stag beetles; a magnificent creature that is listed as a priority species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. We know this because we found a larva when we were digging out the pollinator patch last year. The larvae of the stag beetle are entirely dependent on rotting wood which they feed on for between 4 and 7 years before finally emerging as an adult. We assume the female was attracted to laying her eggs there because of the rotting bark mulch. We are privileged to have these insects that now only occur in the south and east of the country and have been in decline probably due to loss of the very thing they are dependent on, which is rotting wood. We somehow need to shake the habit of being far too tidy!
So when you see the log piles in the Rec, please don’t think of them as a scruffy eyesore, they are in fact, a vital, life giving resource.