I have been asked many times why there are so many dead trees at Fishlake Meadows, so I thought a blog to shed some light on this would be a good idea. Fishlake Meadows used to have the water pumped off so crops could be grown and the land farmed. The trees, primarily poplars, would have been planted as wind breaks and along field boundaries. When farming stopped and pumping the water off the site ended, the area gradually became wetter and wetter. Poplars do well in quite wet conditions, which is probably why they were chosen for Fishlake, however the site eventually became too wet for them. This has meant they have slowly died off and began breaking apart, some still have a bit of life, noticeable by leaves growing in the summer.
View of dead trees from the 2nd viewing platform
The dead trees are a wonderful feature of the nature reserve and are so full of character. When you see a photo with the lines of dead trees amongst reedbeds and open water you immediately know which nature reserve it is.
Line of dead poplars in the reedbed
In addition to being a wonderful feature, they are fantastic for birds. Many of the birds of prey, osprey, marsh harrier, peregrine falcon and hobby, use them as perching posts while resting of keeping a look out for their next meal. Cormorants use them to roost and dry out their wings, great white egrets and herons are regularly seen perched in them.
Dead trees through the middle of open water
Peregrine falcon making use of the dead trees
The dead and dying trees also provide nest sites for many birds, the softer wood is easier to hollow out and where branches have fallen away a hole is often left.
Small hole and dead branches of an old oak tree provide great habitats for a wealth of wildlife.
Invertebrates benefit from the ample deadwood at Fishlake, many beetles lay eggs on deadwood so their larvae can hatch and bore in to the dead wood. This gives them, warmth protection and food. There are up to 2000 invertebrates in the UK that are saproxylic, which means they are reliant on deadwood for part of their lifecycle. Around 330 of these are Red Data Book listed because they are rare, vulnerable or endangered.
Bore holes in deadwood from insects
Soft deadwood dry and sheltered on a wet day
Dead wood is in decline around the UK which isn’t good news for the 7.5% of species directly associated with dead wood. This decline is due to changes in woodland management. Dead wood is now regularly removed from woodland as its often thought of as messy and needing “tidying”. Many wooded areas in the UK are plantations which means the trees are in blocks where they are all the same age and then harvested before any die off. Traditional practices such as coppicing and pollarding would open areas of woodland floor on rotation allowing flora to thrive. Pollarding and coppicing also created a woodland with trees of every age, including creating dead wood habitats each year, unfortunately these traditional practices aren’t used much anymore.
Dead trees that are beginning to break apart.
At Fishlake Meadows there is truly an abundance of dead and dying wood which is a real asset to the nature reserve and the wildlife. In a time when dead wood is sometimes in short supply I am very proud to manage a nature reserve that has plenty. There are several old oak trees that have broken and dying limbs which will have a whole host of micro habitats suitable for many species.
Dead oak tree near the viewing screens
Oak tree with dying branches near the east/west path.
Much of the dead wood on the ground around Fishlake is also being colonised by a variety of fungi and lichen, yet more wildlife that thrives when there is a healthy supply of dead wood around.
Bracket fungi species on a fallen branch
Dead wood is a wonderful thing and is beneficial to have in gardens too, it provides shelter and protection for invertebrates, mammals and amphibians. A small pile of wood in a partly shaded area with some dead leaves around it will soon get lots of visitors.