One of the perks of the job is that we get to spend time in many traditional orchards. The mixture of feeling nestled under tree canopies yet still seeing the blue skies (weather permitting) and surroundig countryside imparts a feeling of peace and wellbeing. It’s not only us who enjoy traditional orchards though, wildlife does to. Mistle thrush can often be heard rattling over head when we’re out pruning and something we always love to see is standing deadwood.
Most people will be able to recognise a dead or partially dead tree. The greyish hue of the bark and lifeless branches are a dead give away (pun intended). However within the deadwood life prolifirates. It’s unfortunate then that many people will cut down and remove standind deadwood, especially in orchards where productivity can be an important driver.
Invertebrates and their larvae can depend on this microhabitat as a vital source of both food and shelter. The noble chafer, with it’s green metallic shine, lays its eggs preferrentially in old mature fruit trees, especially in cherry, plum and apple. Here the larvae consume the decaying wood for up to 3 years until they pupate into adults, afterwhich they fly out into the world to feed on pollen and find a mate. After 4-6 weeks they’re life cycles will be completed. These beautiful little beetles are classified as vulnerable and live in isolated pockets of populations. Their preference for older trees means they are under constant threat from the removal of old and less productive trees.
Under similar threat and for similar reasons the lesser spotted woodpecker also houses in deadwood. They feed on insects on and in branches which is also why they are so attracted to decaying trees. Of the three native woodpecker species in the UK they are both the smallest and the rarest. It is estimated that as few as 2000 breeding pairs live in the UK, predominantly in the southern part of the country. These aren’t the only woodpeckers that like mature orchards and we were lucky enough to find a woodpecker hole at one of the Herefordshire Wildlife Trust’s reserves at the sturts. Distinguishable by the size and height at which it’s placed, this hole likely belongs to one of the larger cousins of the lesser spotted woodpecker, either the great spotted woodpecker or the green woodpecker.
It’s undoubtable that deadwood plays a key role for biodiversity, especially when left standing as long as possible. It offers a home and sustanance to a range of vulnerable species. If you have the choice leaving dead or dying trees standing is a great way to help support wildlife. This is one of our goals when pruning, to ensure that trees can stay upright for as long as they can. That’s why here at Orchard Origins we like to say that deadwood is good wood.