The Nature of Deadwood

The Nature of Deadwood

Gobions Wood (c) Josh Kubale

Deadwood is a fantastic microhabitat for all kinds of creepy crawlies.

Deadwood comes in all forms and sizes – a standing or fallen dead tree, the stump of a cut tree, dead branches of a tree or even dead shrubs. Despite its name, deadwood is full of life and provides a vital home for many woodland plants and animals.

From the smallest hoverfly to the mighty owl, around 40% of woodland wildlife is at least partially dependent on deadwood habitats. In the UK, around 2,000 invertebrate species are saproxylic – reliant on dead or decaying wood for either a part or all of their life cycle. If you have ever done a minibeast hunt in the forest, you will have seen lots of creepy-crawlies when you lift a log.

Fly agaric (Amanita muscaria)

© Neil Aldridge

Woodlice, centipedes, millipedes and many other species love the dark and damp conditions and will happily make themselves a home in deadwood. Other invertebrates feed on decaying wood as larvae, such as the rare stag beetle, many longhorn beetle species and the giant woodwasp. The large presence of invertebrates, in turn, attracts predators. Woodland Birds and bats as well as hedgehogs seek out dead and decaying wood for a feast. Deadwood is a paradise for lichen and fungi too: look out for the distinctive candlesnuff fungus – it has a forked body with a black base and white, powdery tip and grows on rotting wood.

Fungi on deadwood

Deadwood Fungi © Frieda Rummenhohl

Dead and hollowing trees often boast an impressive number of holes and cavities that provide an ideal roost place for birds like the great spotted woodpecker, tits and owls. Most of our bat species depend on tree holes for summer and winter roosts. A pile of logs often serves as a hibernaculum for hedgehogs and toads to spend the winter.

Deadwood plays a vital role in our rivers and lakes too. Fallen logs can provide cover for fish as well as water invertebrates and create pools used for spawning. Woody debris can narrow a stream, slowing the flow and reducing soil erosion.

Just like death is a part of life, deadwood is a part of a functioning ecosystem. Sadly, today, most managed woodlands contain less than 10% deadwood. On our reserves, we purposefully create deadwood habitats with log piles and tree stumps or by leaving dead trees standing.

It’s easy to include deadwood in your wildlife garden. Simply pile up a few logs and let nature do the rest.