What is Decay Wood?
Decay wood (or Deadwood) habitat occurs when any part of a tree dies and begins to decompose. Over its lifetime, the tree accumulates nutrients within its structure and, when it dies (or drops a branch) this nutrient store is released to the surrounding environment as the wood decays.
There are many forms of decay wood from simple fallen branches to rotting trunks and, in truly ancient trees, decaying heartwood. Each has specific value to a woodland ecosystem and provides habitat to a range of species which take advantage of each particular micro-habitat.
Why is Decay Wood important?
Decay Wood habitat is extremely important to the ecological health of woodland and a vital part of a healthy nutrient cycle. It is the recycling of nutrients from decaying wood that allows other organisms within the ecosystem to flourish. Without decaying wood, there simply wouldn’t be enough nutrients to go around!
Additionally, it is estimated that an astonishing 40% of woodland wildlife is dependent on this aspect of a woodland’s ecosystem including organisms such as fungi, lichens, invertebrates, mosses, birds and bats, many of them having very specific requirements, and some specialising exclusively on one particular micro-habitat such as standing dead wood (i.e. a hollow, decaying tree trunk.)
Over the last few decades, the amount of decaying wood habitat in woodlands has declined substantially. There are several key reasons for this.
People often perceive decay wood habitat as dangerous and any woodland containing even a small amount is deemed unsafe. However, the risk of being injured by deadwood is extremely low as long as reasonable caution is taken. There are absolutely cases where decaying wood represents a danger and should be removed (when near footpaths or roads) but all too often dead limbs or decaying trees are removed entirely without question. By removing a dead tree entirely, all the valuable decay habitat that it provides is lost and with it, the species that it supports.
Within urban green spaces, deadwood is also removed for ‘aesthetic’ reasons. Rotting branches and trunks are viewed as ‘untidy’ and are felled and removed in an attempt to ‘neaten’ the woodland. In turn, this has had a detrimental effect on organisms dependent upon this saproxylic habitat. A prime example has been the decline of the stag beetle across UK and Europe.
BCL Deadwood Policy
Wherever it is safe to do so, we aim to leave deadwood across the wooded areas of the Common and only remove it if it poses a threat to the public. Whether this is creating stag beetles loggeries, leaving standing trunks (monoliths) or even something as simple as creating habitat piles of brash, all deadwood provides value to wildlife and is worth keeping. Any deadwood that is removed for safety reasons is left on the Common to rot down.
Taking wood from any of our sites not only disturbs valuable habitat but is also an offence under one of the Richmond’s Public Space Protections Orders.