How to use logs to attract wildlife

Dead or dying wood is a vital habitat for plants, fungi and animals in the wild – and it’s easy to replicate it in your garden with a log pile.

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Dead or dying wood is a vital habitat for plants, fungi and animals in the wild, and it’s easy to replicate it in your garden with the use of log piles.

Logs can be used in the garden to produce a wide range of interesting habitats and niches. The Victorians incorporated tree stumps and their roots into ‘stumpery gardens’, creating a diversity of shapes and structures that they then grew ferns and other woodland plants around. And if it was good enough for them more than 100 years ago, then why not for us today? 

If you can’t manage a stumpery, try embedding a range of logs of different sizes vertically in the ground. These take up less space but can still be attractive, especially when planted with ferns and climbing plants. As well as creating a visually interesting display, keeping wood in your garden will also help to attract more species of invertebrates and other wildlife.

Wood is such a valuable resource, yet so much is needlessly thrown away, so look for local sources of unwanted wood, and see how you can use it to best effect.
 
HOW TO USE WOOD IN YOUR GARDEN: 
 
  • In Britain, there are some 900 species of invertebrates that live in or on dead wood, and while some do not colonise urban gardens, many do. Experiment with your log piles by using different timber varieties around the garden and seeing which attract the most species.
     
  • Most invertebrates (and vertebrates) that live in or around log piles need moisture, so ensure that the logs do not dry out, either by partly burying them in the soil or by covering them in wood chippings, grass cuttings or dead leaves. If necessary, water them. If they do not rot down fairly quickly, they are too dry.
     
  • Remember that the gaps between logs are also important. Don’t use logs that are too big as there won’t be enough of these spaces. The ideal diameter for a log is about 10cm.
     
  • If you have to fell a large tree in your garden, or can obtain one that has been cut down locally, ask for the trunk to be sawn into round sections 10-20 cm thick and stack them like overlapping cheeses. You can fill the gaps with chippings, dead leaves or bracken. The visual effect will be enhanced by growing a diversity of plants through the ‘cheeses’.
     
  • Log piles do not have to be just for wildlife: they can also make garden seats. If you use fresh willow logs, and keep them moist, they will invariably sprout and the branches can be trained to create a bower around the seat. Willows also attract a wide range of insects, so in summer, willow log seats are beautifully cool, secluded places, and your garden wildlife is literally all around you.

 

SIX SPECIES THAT LOVE LOGS: 

  1. Moss greatly enhances the attractiveness of any log pile. It also helps to retain moisture and adds to the overall diversity of your garden.
     
  2. Fungi will slowly colonise rotting wood. The greater the variety of logs you use, the greater the diversity of species you’ll get.
     
  3. Toads love the damp conditions created by a nice log pile. Garden toad populations are declining, so this is hugely beneficial conservation action.
     
  4. Earwigs can often be found under logpiles. In summer, look for females and their offspring. The young may still have soft white shells.
     
  5. Slow-worms like using log piles to bask in the sun. This is especially true of pregnant females as warmth speeds up the development of their young.
     
  6. Wasps need wood as a source material to build their nests. They can often be heard gnawing it from a considerable distance away.
 
STEVE'S TOP TIPS: 
 
  • Tree surgeons may let you have logs they do not need, so if you see a tree being pruned or felled, ask if you can take them. A range of sizes and wood types will attract the greatest diversity of wildlife.
     
  • Also ask for the chippings from the shredded smaller branches. These can be used as mulches for flowerbeds, to create piles in corners of the garden and to fill in the gaps between logs to help retain moisture. Also use them to cover log piles to speed up decomposition.
     
  • Stumps that have been grubbed up from building sites are often dumped in skips. These can be used to build a range of structurally interesting ‘stumperies’, with ferns and other woodland plants growing through them.
     
  • Try to get a good mix of hardwood and softwood logs – beech, ash, elm and oak are generally the best types of wood for wildlife, mosses and fungi. Avoid rhododendron though, because they contain chemicals that inhibit colonisation by wildlife.
     
  • Use the small branches that you trim off in your garden to build stick piles or borrow a garden shredder and turn them into chippings. If possible, run your garden as a closed system so that you don’t need to take anything to the council recycling or composting site.
     
  • Do not collect logs from the countryside: there is little enough rotting wood as it is. Once you start looking, you will be amazed by how much valuable wood is thrown away every day.

 

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