So I am a big kid. I love rock pooling and building sand castles at the beach. If I see a tree with low hanging branches you can bet I’m going to try and climb it (and like most kids and big kids this doesn’t always end well). So you can imagine how much I love the fairy village on our natural play trail. I love it so much that I’ve started to see fairy houses all over the reserve. Most of these come in the form of dead wood stumps. 

Pondering how to get down - Katy Fielding

Now ‘dead wood stump’ might not sound quite as beautiful, intricate and all together magical as a fairy village. However, I challenge anyone to look at some of these stumps and not think that a fairy or some equally magical creature could call the place home. The truth is that so many creatures do. 

Dead wood stump which conjures images of a mystical faulty towers - Katy Fielding

Just looking at these tree stumps, anyone can see that they are home to a wide variety of creatures. The first things I notice are the lichens. I love lichens. I know nothing about lichens except that they fascinate me. I love their delicate, grasping finger/tendrils (that’s definitely a thing). Second I notice fungi and mosses changing the shape, texture and pretty much the character of the stump. Really it is no longer a stump, it’s something mystical that draws you in to touch it. But years of your parents telling you not to touch yucky things urge you to pull your hand back - kind of like sleeping beauty and the spindle – big kid remember. All I can say is I always touch it. 

Dead wood stump with all the whimsy of a fairy village - Katy Fielding

On even closer inspection you notice that the stump is moving it’s literally crawling with life: centipedes, millipedes, woodlice, ants to name a few. The more you inspect the more you discover. There’s so much to discover. 

Dead wood is a vital habitat for wildlife that often gets over looked. Many mosses, lichens, fungi and insects rely on dead wood; in turn many species rely on them. Lots of birds feed on insects and rely on good numbers to feed and rear their chicks. 

Rotting dead wood providing a fantastic habitat for moss and scarlet elf cap fungi - Katy Fielding

We have loads of dead wood on the reserve in lots of different forms; we have tree stumps (clearly my favourite), wood piles and ones that often get over looked are dead trees. Dead trees are also super important because they provide homes for many birds. One of the obvious ones is for many species of owl. Dead trees often have big cavities in which are perfect for barn owls to build a nest in as well as other owls such as little and tawny (if you've been watching spring watch you’ll know all about that).

A very rare bird which also relies on dead wood to nest in is the willow tit. The need for dead wood is especially significant here as the willow tit is the fastest declining bird in the UK – and we still don’t entirely know why. 

Willow tit illustration - RSPB images

Providing dead wood is to provide a home for nature. Whichever form you can manage will definitely benefit something – and may just create an art like piece that kids and big kids alike can’t resist touching. Whether you’re giving fairies a home, insects a home or lichens (so cool) a home you’re always giving nature a home. Really it’s all benefits.

For more information on how to create dead wood habitats in your garden check out the RSPB advice page:

Do it for wildlife and the big kid in you, no one will be disappointed.