The Dead Good Deadwood Blog: What’s so good about deadwood?

TCV is currently working with the Forestry Commission Scotland as part of the Scotland Counts Project to produce a new Citizen Science project all about Deadwood! How exciting! This first blog will give you a bit of background information about deadwood and why it needs our help 🙂

So what exactly is Deadwood? And why is it dead good?

  • Deadwood is a tree or part of a tree that has died and is in a stage of decomposition.

Here are five different types of deadwood (figure 1):

types-of-dw

  • Deadwood is extremely important to the health of woodlands and even us humans! It plays a big part in nutrient recycling. As plants grow they take nutrients from the soil to help them thrive. If the plant is then removed from that soil, as it often is when you are growing vegetables to eat, then those nutrients are taken away, which is why farmers have to add nutrients back into their soil with compost and fertilisers. In a more natural environment like a forest, where plants like trees are left to grow and die, then the dead wood from the trees will slowly release nitrogen into the soil as it decays for other plants to use.
  • Deadwood also acts as a carbon storage system, capturing the carbon that the tree has taken in over its life and locking it into the ground to prevent that carbon being released into the atmosphere, which is a cause of unnatural global warning.
  • Fallen deadwood also helps the stability of woodland soil and helps prevent soil erosion.
  • Last but definitely not least, deadwood is an important microhabitat for hundreds of wildlife species and is used by birds, mammals, fungi, plants, amphibians, reptiles, insects, and even fish! Ancient woodlands are thought to have the most variety of plants and animals of all the UK habitats and40% of woodland wildlife species are dependent on deadwood at some stage of their life. This includes living on or in the deadwood, eating it, or eating the things that live and grow on it. There are some very intriguing relationships between specific living things relying on very specific types of deadwood, making deadwood home to some of the rarest species on earth. For example, the pine hoverfly only breeds in wet pockets of decay on scots pine tree stumps, and the black tinder fungus beetle only lives on the fruiting bodies of the tinder fungus which only lives on dead birch trees.

It’s these very specific relationships that give deadwood such a great biodiversity value, because there are so many species of trees decaying and different rates and stages and shapes and sizes, it has enabled thousands of other living things to take advantage of these different stages, and take advantage of the creatures taking advantage of deadwood!

But it’s these very specialised niches and relationships that mean deadwood is particularly vulnerable to human activity and environmental change.

Threats to deadwood habitats:

  • Removal: Deadwood makes great firewood and is often removed from woodlands to be used as fuel. Deadwood is also removed from parks and public woodlands as it is thought to be ‘messy’ or even dangerous as it is thought that it could harbour pests and diseases, or fall on your head. Some land managers feel there is a need to be in keeping with this public perception of tidiness, but unfortunately wildlife, and deadwood, will not thrive in a tidy park or woodland garden.
  • Uniform Age and Species Structure: Many of our woodland areas in Britain are actually forestry plantations. This involves lots of trees (mainly conifer species) being planted all at the same time closely together, so that the trees produce long straight timber that can be harvested and used for building. This is great for timber production, but the problem is that it means all the trees are of the same species and same age. In natural woodland the trees would be a mixture of those that are dead or ancient veteran trees right down to saplings which would host a healthy variety and covering of types of deadwood.
  • Loss of traditional woodland management: Woodlands are one of the few natural habitats in Britain that have historically benefitted from human activity. Traditionally our woodlands were managed to produce a variety of fuel and building materials, food and hunting opportunities. Different traditional practices such as coppicing and pollarding (cutting trees to so that they sprout several poles of flexible wood rather than one long piece of timber) meant that areas of woodland where opened up, allowing more light to the woodland floor and therefore encouraging more ground flora. Regular and varied harvesting also meant that many deadwood habitats where created. Sadly there is no longer a demand for these woodland products and activities, it is now cheaper to buy timber from abroad, people now use fencing rather than coppice poles, and the public prefer to buy their food from shops rather than forage it. This has led to woodlands becoming less bio-diverse and the reduction in deadwood certainly has a hand in this.
  • Fertilisers and Pesticides: Many large farms and plantations spray pesticides on their crops. These pesticides can very easily be absorbed by deadwood which then kills any invertebrates living within it, or animals that then eat the invertebrates.

So it sounds like deadwood, and all the creatures that love it, could do with a bit of help, to get more people excited about deadwood and its protection.

This is why we in the TCV Citizen Science team have been working to produce The Dead Good Deadwood Survey!

The reason we have done this is to create an educational tool kit that will help people understand the benefits of looking after deadwood whilst also providing us and them with new information about our local woodlands and green spaces. Keep an eye out for our next blog to find out how exactly you can survey deadwood and improve deadwood habitats, but for now, head out and see if you can spot some dead good deadwood!

 

 

Picture references

Figure 1. Forestry Commission (2012) Different types of deadwood found in forests and woodlands [Illustration] At: Jonathan Humphrey and Sallie Bailey (2012). Managing deadwood in forests and woodlands. Forestry Commission Practice Guide. Forestry Commission, Edinburgh.

Five things our volunteers have done so far….

Bracken bashing

Why control bracken? This rapidly growing fern provides a great habitat for many birds and insects but it will invade heather and other grassland areas that are of conservation interest. TCV Stirling volunteers have spent ++ number of days ++ helping stop dense clumps of bracken spreading to adjoining grass and heather at ++ locations? ++ . The trick is to bash it really hard near the base stem with a big stick.
++ photos of bracken here ++

Himalayan Balsam clearing.

This is a plant that produces lovely pink flowers that hum with bees seeking the high sugar nectar in the late summer sun. As idyllic as this sounds, the plant is classified as an invasive species as it takes over large areas, mainly riverbanks ++(I think this is correct)++ making it difficult, sometimes impossible, for other species to grow. No one really knows if the bees love this particular nectar r only take it when there is no choice. TCV volunteers spent
++ days ++ clearing Balsam which comes up easily by it roots.
++ photos of HB++,

Rhododendron clearing at Muiravonside

Number of days, photos, and will get footprints in.y

Silver Birch control

++Expand on Facebook post, add location and days worked. ++

Garden project ??? There will be a blog about this when it is done so perhaps something else? Perhaps another clearance project then can rename blog “Five things to clear up” or similar.

TCV come to the Garden Rescue

When the residents of a local housing association looked out of their back windows, there wasn’t much to see apart from two rotary dryers and a forest of overgrown shrubs. There was nowhere to sit and very little space to stroll round especially if the grass was wet. Knowing the benefits of having an outdoor space to general health and wellbeing, a plan was required to revive this wilderness. With help from Central Scotland Green Network Trust (CSGN) , especially Emilie Wadsworth their Biodiversity Officer, a new garden was designed then it was up to TCV volunteers to put the plan in action. The project couldn’t have happened without funding from Greggs so a huge thank you to them.

First, clear a space!

Clearing up

Clearing up


Chop Chop!

Chop Chop!

Next, get digging!

Man on a mission...

Man on a mission…


All together now

All together now

Spaces cleared, ground prepared so time to fill them in…

New place to dry

New place to dry


Planting the planters

Planting the planters

No one wants to squelch around on wet grass so we put in a path to make it easier to walk around and to work on the garden.

Digging out the path.

Digging out the path.

Walk this way!

Walk this way!

A garden has its possessions so needs somewhere to keep its things tidy.

rsz_1dscf7301_-_copy (1)

Getting close to the end of the restoration project and time for some finishing touches. Some plants to brighten up the drying area and a picnic bench to rest on while the appointed chef sizzles sausages on the brick built barbeque.

Finishing off at the end of the day.

Finishing off at the end of the day.

This new garden is a place to revive spirits, shelter wildlife and inspire the residents to new interests and green fingers. There will soon be an orchard and in the future, the fruits of labour will be eaten! Flowers and vegetables coming here soon to these lovely raised beds that will make it easier to give the plants the attention they need.

Perfect on a sunny afternoon..

Perfect on a sunny afternoon..

Autumn Adventures in Edinburgh

It’s been a busy and exciting couple of months for our mid week volunteer group here in Edinburgh with a huge variety of conservation work taking place all around Edinburgh, the Lothian’s and Fife.

At the beginning of September we visited Davidson’s Mains Park in Edinburgh to help them tackle everyone’s ‘favourite’ invasive species: Himalayan Balsam. With the help of volunteers from Friend’s of Davidson’s Mains we cleared countless bin bags full (and even had to go on an emergency bin bag run as everyone was working so hard!).

Balsam bashing at Davidson's Mains Park

Balsam bashing at Davidson’s Mains Park

Davidson's Mains Park

Next on our big ‘to do’ list for September was some footpath maintenance at Almondell and Calderwood Country Park in West Lothian. Armed with spades and shovels our volunteers spent a happy (and very mucky!) morning removing mud from a waterlogged section of footpath and creating drainage channels across the path. Whilst the mud was being cleared the team took it in turns to transport the gravel to refill the path; not an easy task considering the distance and steep slopes they had to negotiate with their wheelbarrows!

Checking the drainage channel depth

Checking the drainage channel depth

Mud, glorious mud!

Mud, glorious mud!

Adding the finishing touches to path!

Adding the finishing touches to path!

At the end of September we headed up to Braid Hills in the south of Edinburgh to carry out some more destruction- this time cutting back huge gorse bushes in order to open up a very narrow bridal path. Thick gloves and very strong arms were needed as we worked our way along the path and cut back huge amounts of the very spikey gorse. The volunteers did an amazing job and have had some fantastic feedback from users of the path.

Hard at work opening up the bridal way and footpath along the edge of Braid Hills.

Hard at work opening up the bridal way and footpath along the edge of Braid Hills.

The team enjoying the great view from the Braid Hills

The team enjoying the great view from the Braid Hills

We’ve also been lucky enough to help out at several community growing projects and gardens over the last few months and each one has offered its own exciting mix of tasks (and some fabulous views!). At the beautiful Starbank Park in the north of Edinburgh our volunteers helped to erect some lovely handmade bird boxes and worked hard to neaten the footpath borders- a tricky and tiring task due to the steep incline of the park!

Tidying up the path borders at Starbank Park

Tidying up the path borders at Starbank Park

Caught snoozing on the job!

Caught snoozing on the job!

Erecting bird boxes at Starbank Park.

Erecting bird boxes at Starbank Park.

Some great team work at Starbank Park.

Some great team work at Starbank Park.

As October arrived we headed across the bridge to the Friary Community Garden in Inverkeithing. Weeding and vegetation clearance were our main priorities here (as they often seems to be for us; we do love a good bit of destruction!) and, as a thank you for all the teams hard work, we were treated to some marshmallows to toast over the fire!

Taking a little break from working...

Taking a little break from working…

Fantastic views across the Firth of Forth from the Friary Community Garden.

Fantastic views across the Firth of Forth from the Friary Community Garden.

Great fun toasting marshmallows!

Great fun toasting marshmallows!

A chilly autumnal tea break!

A chilly autumnal tea break!

Last but not least, a firm favourite for our volunteers these last few months has been the wonderful Gracemount Walled Garden to the south of Edinburgh. To thank our volunteers the extremely generous guys (and amazing cooks!) at Gracemount always put on a fantastic three course, home cooked meal for us to enjoy at lunch time- a very welcome step up from our usual tea and biscuits! And when we’re not busy eating we do manage to squeeze in quite a bit of work; we’ve tackled some very stubborn tree stumps, helped to prune their fruit trees, built a fire pit, done a heck of a lot of weeding and, most recently, cleared the woodland at the back of the garden to open it up and create a new pathway.

The team tackling a very stubborn tree stump!

The team tackling a very stubborn tree stump!

All smiles at Gracemount Walled Garden!

All smiles at Gracemount Walled Garden!

Making habitat piles in the woodland behind the garden.

Making habitat piles in the woodland behind the garden.

Lunch time at the garden.

Lunch time at the garden.

– Ali (Volunteer Officer with TCV Edinburgh)