The Dead Wood of Coldfall Wood

Dear Readers, we all love a good tree, but what about when it’s felled or trimmed or comes to the end of its life? I took a walk in Coldfall Wood on Friday with my good friend A, as people generally don’t seem to appreciate how important dead wood is to the ecology of woodland. Just look, for example, at the moss growing on these logs. There will be all kinds of invertebrates living under the bark, and no doubt mice and beetles and all sorts of other creatures will be living in the interstices. In time the whole lot will rot down (with the aid of a whole army of fungi, insects, bacteria and other detritivores) and return to feed the new trees that will grow up in the space that the tree once occupied.

There are wood piles from when some of the trees were coppiced a few years ago, and, whilst you can only see the fungal fruiting bodies later in the year, they host a whole range of different species.

Black bulgar fungus

Candlesnuff fungus

Hairy Curtain Crust

Standing dead trees can provide roosting holes not only for the obvious candidates, such as woodpeckers and nuthatches, but also for birds such as this stock dove. These are shy little birds, smaller than a wood pigeon, with what I always think of as ‘kind’ dark eyes.

Dead trees often have a kind of grandeur and beauty all of their own. I love the peeling bark on this one, and the variety of colours on its trunk.

The Conservation Volunteers are an organisation who do a lot of work in the wood, including creating these dead hedges to protect areas from trampling. 95% of people recognise that these are meant to be a barrier. 5% take it as a challenge, and the hedges are sometimes dismantled, with the branches ending up in ‘dens’. Part of the reason for taking these photos with Friend A was to design some signage so that people know what the dead hedges are there for, so maybe we can get them left alone for longer. Getting the balance right between people exploring and experiencing the wood and its long-term survival so that future generations can also enjoy it sometimes feels like a real uphill battle, but it’s important to remember that most people do respect the woods, and that many of those who don’t are doing so out of ignorance rather than malice. Many of us seem to have become so divorced from nature and its patterns that we really don’t have the first idea about how to treat a ‘wild’ place.

A rather lovely dead hedge

And to cheer me up, the marsh marigold in the woods is in flower a good week before the one in my garden pond. There’s nothing more heartening than that glimpse of gold amidst all the green.

And hidden away, almost below the bridge, there are some enormous violets, definitely ‘blushing unseen’.

And of course some forget-me-nots.

So, let’s see where we get to with our ‘dead wood is good wood’ posters. Will they all end up in the stream? It’s possible, but I do hope that at least some people will realise that the hedges are there for a purpose, not just to be annoying. I will keep you posted!

2 thoughts on “The Dead Wood of Coldfall Wood

  1. Anne

    You have focused on a very important part of ecology. I have watched with much interest as some fairly large stumps in our garden have rotted over the years thanks to all sorts of things, including fungi. Which brings me to note how interesting the names of the fungi you feature are! The real danger – as I pointed out in my post on the Tipuana tipu – of dead or dying trees in one’s garden, is the danger of branches falling down. I enjoyed seeing the dead wood hedges and look forward to seeing the posters you hope will be produced to educate the public about the importance of dead wood. Far too many regard it as an ‘eyesore’.

  2. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    Regarding the fence and all the other wonderful things you see in those woods, why not erect signs for quite a few of the flowers and interesting objects which are dotted about the place? You may well have seen similar ‘floral walks’ in Austria. I’m sure (most) people will appreciate the educational aspects of seeing what things are and having them described – with a picture to help obviously.
    It also seems that we are on parallel courses this spring, with the same plants popping up over there as here…


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