In praise of rotten wood

25 May 2018

An astonishing amount of UK wildlife (over 2000 species) is reliant on ancient trees. But historic wood pasture and parkland is actually under threat and declining. There’s the growing threat from tree diseases and climate change, but of greatest concern is the age gap between existing ancient trees and future generations.

Trying to ensure habitat continuity is essential. That’s why our partners, Buglife, the only organisation in Europe devoted to the conservation of all invertebrates, have their amazing ‘Ancients of the Future’ project. Their aim is to increase the resilience of ancient trees and to ensure the continuity of these vital habitats far into the future. Buglife’s own Paul Hetherington told us about the wildlife that rely on these habitats and why we need to take action.

By Paul Hetherington

Most of the British Isles was once wooded, so it’s hardly surprising that 7% of all native animals are saproxylic. This means that they’re dependant during some part of their lifecycle upon dead or decaying timber, wood-inhabiting fungi, or the presence of other saproxylic species. Thus, ancient trees, historic wood pasture and parkland provide some of the most important habitats for wildlife in the UK – dead and decaying wood.

More than 1,800 invertebrate species rely on decaying wood in Britain, including seven that are at risk of extinction in England by 2020, such as the Royal splinter cranefly and Violet click beetle. Many are now found on just a single site or are restricted to a very small number, such as the Oak click beetle and the Variable chafer.

Almost half these species are beetles – 700, in fact – of which almost one in four are considered to be under threat of extinction. This includes the impressive Stag beetle that spends up to seven years underground as a larva and the metallic Noble chafer (an orchard specialist). There’s also an array of black and red click beetles such as the Cardinal click beetle and many smaller fungi specialists such as clown beetles and rove beetles, to name but a few. Not only do saproxylic beetles need decaying wood to complete their lifecycle, but many also require the presence of other plants such as blossoming hawthorn, umbellifers (notably hogweed), thistles and brambles which provide food, mating opportunities and shelter.

Most gardens lack the space for veteran trees but we can all create a little of this important habitat through the creation of log piles. Old tree stumps left in the ground also create great habitat and fruit trees are particularly popular, so remember, for wildlife, a dead tree can be worth a lot more than an alive one.

You can find out more about the Ancients of the Future project at Buglife. And you can support their great work too – just by switching to Ecotricity. We’ll donate up to £60 to Buglife when you join us.

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