Retain old trees and make sure there is plenty of dead wood lying around
Gnarled old trees and dead wood, i.e. dead branches, cuttings and tall tree stumps, are important for encouraging more wild nature into your garden. Dead trees and brushwood are traditionally seen as litter which must be taken straight to the recycling centre, but disorder makes for thriving life. They form fantastic habitats and excellent sources of food for many insects, fungi, birds and mammals.
Gnarled old trees
Thousands of insect species thrive in old trees. Yet some of us humans are not very keen on them. As soon as an old tree gets a little fungus on it, puts the garden in shade or looks like it might fall over in the next storm, we start thinking about it as a danger and fell it. We have actually got to the situation where we simply do not have enough old trees across the entire country, especially those which have been allowed to grow in the sun and become beautiful and gnarled. Of course, it takes a ridiculously long time to produce an old tree and they are now in short supply. As a result, the many species that are linked to habitats in old trees are now also in decline. If you have an old tree in your garden or a communal area, take really good care of it. Instead of felling old trees, pollard and trim them, so that there is no risk of them falling over or dropping branches onto the heads of people below.
You can also help by creating good habitats in old trees by “veteranising” them, i.e. damaging them without destroying them, thereby creating cavities for use as natural bird’s nests and places where bats, ladybirds and small tortoiseshell butterflies can overwinter, and tree-dwelling beetles, fungi and bees can live.
However, if you do have to fell a tree, leave a 2 to 4 metre high stump and leave it to decay very slowly. Tree stumps form valuable habitats, especially in sunny spots. Climbing plants such as honeysuckle and ivy can be planted up against the stump, or bird boxes can be put up if you don’t think the stump is sufficiently attractive in itself.
Brushwood and firewood stacks
Piles of brushwood, leaves, garden waste and hedge clippings or a stack of old firewood logs can also be used to create important habitats around the garden. These are the most effective bug hotels around. They have many nooks and crannies which the animals can use to hide in, eat off and decompose. Piles of brushwood are a hedgehog's winter paradise and also act as nests for their young over the summer. These piles are easy to make, and the bigger the pile and the more piles you can create, the better. So, keep all your garden waste and leave it lying around the garden, both in sunny spots and under a hedge or bush, for example. This will maximise the variation in conditions in the stacks, enabling as many different species to live there as possible.
Once you have created your brushwood stack, it can just be left to look after itself. Do not disturb the stacks, but add new material from time to time. Then the animals will not have to move to a new stack every year. You can look inside the piles and admire the life in them if you do it carefully, just remember to put the branches and leaves back in place again.
Stacks of brushwood and firewood can be arranged in interesting or artistic piles, like attractive brushwood hedges, or placed in large piles. Small animals and fungi will not care what you do, so let your imagination run riot. If you want a stack of brushwood on your balcony, it is a good idea to create a bug hotel, so that it all fits together. You can also use some hollow pipes for bees to lay their eggs in. Just make sure they are at least 15 cm deep.
What you can do:
• Don’t fell old trees. Pollard or trim them
• If an old tree has to be felled, leave a 2 to 4 m stump in situ
• Veteranise trees by drilling holes in them
• Remember that stacks of brushwood and firewood form effective bug hotels