Habitat piles for wildlife
People often say, when we are working in the meadows or the Great Churchyard, “keep up the good work and thank you for doing all this work”. This encouragement certainly supports us in our toils; but occasionally we get a complaint, politely wrapped up as a request, such as “can you move the big piles of grass as they are so unsightly”. Grant you, there is one such pile of grass in the Crankles which shouldn’t be there, but more on that another time; now is the time to explain why our piles of grass, which are the result of raking the cut vegetation after scything, represent our commitment to working with Nature.
In our modern-day human culture, decomposition and decay are often viewed as quite negative; think of urban decay, tooth decay, decomposing food etc. But in nature they are the opposite power to growth, you cannot have one without the other, the yin and yang of natural forces. Our vegetation piles quietly moulder and reduce over time by the actions of a myriad of fungi and small invertebrates breaking down the organic matter into its chemical constituents. These are released back into the soil to be used again
With almost two thirds of our UK species in decline, since the 1950s, they perform an important function as habitat and safe shelter for small mammals and slowworms away from predators. For predators such as grass snakes, they will use them as safe shelter too, but also a convenient food store, knowing there will be small mammals and invertebrates hiding in the layers of leaves and grass. They are a valuable refuge in hot weather in the summer but equally a warm sanctuary in cold winter weather.
You might not see much happening in the day, other than the odd wren or dunnock scrabbling at the edge of the pile for invertebrates, or spiders dashing away from you, but come out on a moonlit night and you will see plenty of woodlice, spiders and other minibeasts, scurrying away or back into the pile.
If you add dead wood to the pile, which we do in winter, when tree work and clearing is taking place, these create a dead wood resource that’s lacking in most “tidy” gardens. Moist, decaying wood is a whole ecosystem on its own with its associated fungi, beetles and other invertebrates and this is being lost when trees are burnt or moved off site. The magnificent stag beetle does exist in our meadows as older records tell, but our biological recorders have yet to find a modern example. They are always on the lookout and our habitat piles are just the place to look.
These habitat piles also represent all the hard work our dedicated team of volunteers carry out every month, to bring plant and animal diversity into the meadows.
Jillian Macready BWMG trustee