Leave deadwood for the beetles

It was worrying to see another news story recently about theft of felled wood, probably for firewood. We experienced similar problems last year.

The increase in fossil fuel prices, and rapid rise in sales of woodburning stoves has led to an increasingly buoyant firewood market. While this has potential to benefit woodland wildlife, ignorance and plain dishonesty could also lead to even more erosion of biodiversity in our beleaguered woods.

Sulphur tuft fungi grow on and help to decompose deadwood, returning vital nutrients to the woodland ecosystem

Dead wood lying on the woodland floor creates an extremely important habitat. Well-meaning firewood scavengers may think they are doing woodland owners a good turn by “tidying up” what appears to be waste wood. However, owners carrying out conservation management often leave some wood lying, where it falls, or stacked to form “habitat piles”, to increase the volume of deadwood in their wood.

Dead and decaying wood provides micro-habitats for small animals, insects, flowering plants, mosses, lichens, and fungi – often species that play a vital decomposing role in the woodland ecosystem, and many that are either rare or endangered. The value of deadwood is such that woodland managers are encouraged to retain specific volumes per hectare within their woods, through woodland management grant schemes. If you want to know more about the value of deadwood, the Royal Forestry Society have a great page.

Where wood has not been left to decay, but has been felled as part of woodland management operations and is waiting to be sold by the owner, deliberate theft robs him or her of an economic return and could deter further management that might benefit biodiversity.

Please protect important deadwood habitats

Markets for small scale timber have been poor in recent decades, but increased interest in woodfuel and firewood is beginning to change that. This is good news for woods that were managed over centuries and developed communities of plants and animals that depended on traditional forms of management. However, it relies on woodland owners being able to manage according to a properly thought out and agreed management plan, that ensures biodiversity is enhanced rather than harmed by any operations, and to receive a return on wood taken out.

At the Woodland Trust, we support woodfuel as a renewable energy option, but only where it delivers both genuine greenhouse gas savings, and positive biodiversity benefits.

We would urge you to buy your firewood from a reputable dealer, and if possible ensure that glowing log fire isn’t contributing to woodland wildlife decline.

Sian Atkinson, Conservation Communications & Evidence Adviser

About Kay Haw

Assistant Conservation Adviser, Woodland Trust. Nature is my passion, especially woods and trees which are just amazing elements of life. One day (soon) I hope we humans learn to work in harmony with Mother Earth.
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4 Responses to Leave deadwood for the beetles

  1. percyville says:

    The loss of dead and downed wood in forests results in the loss of much wildlife and biodiversity. They are key for small mammals that provide food for larger birds and mammal predators. A forest without dead wood is a sterile environment. I wish more attention were paid to this critical habitat component.

  2. Thanks for these responses. It’s great to hear of good practice like this from woodland managers. Obviously, an economic return on the wood helps to make management sustainable, but we need to try and get the right balance!

  3. David Blake says:

    The rise and rise of the wood fuel market has reduced the opportunity and inclination for woodland managers to create deadwood habitats. I’ll provide two “for instances” from when I used to work for the Forestry Commission:
    In 2000, I found that the beech plantations I helped to manage were home to a rare ground beetle, the Blue Ground Beetle (Carabus intricatus). Over the next few years I found, through trail and error, that the beetles preferred to rest and hibernate under beech logs that were a minimum of 20 cm diameter and about 60 cm long. I found that if I used off-cuts and left-overs from thinnings, I could create additional hibernacula and summer refugia. the logs would have to be in place for a year before they were used and the beetles did not used logs that had become so rotten that they were water-logged. In the end, I could tell which logs were likely to have beetles under them. However, this kind of simple conservation action would be much harder these days, as hard wood logs command such a high price that nothing is left behind.
    In the days when Douglas Fir small round wood from thinnings was hard or impossible to sell, foresters I worked with would ask harvester operators to reach up and cut off as high as the machine would safely allow, leaving a standing stump that would be 15 feet high, sometimes more. These stumps stood in the gloom of the Douglas Fir stand and were quickly colonised by invertebrates and fungi, became used by woodpeckers as foraging areas and by owls and raptors as perches. In clear-fell operations, we would leave as much standing deadwood, of both broadleaved species and conifers, as we could, so as to provide this habitat in the young plantations. Standing deadwood eventually becomes fallen deadwood. The clearfells I see now are much “cleaner” as everything has a value, so nothing is left behind.
    One last plea for deadwood – can anyone who reads this please discourage anyone from buying old oak and other roots and stumps from garden centres? These are sold as garden ornaments or features for a pond, but in order to be put on sale they are pulled out of the ground, destroying habitat in the process. If you see them being used by garden designers, can you raise this with them, please?

  4. Pingback: One man’s trash is another beetle’s treasure | Conservation of Biodiversity

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