The Lodge, like many reserves, was forced to close its doors to visitors when Storm Eunice hit. It was touch-and-go but we were just about able to keep open when Storm Franklin came to visit a couple of days later.

Windspeeds reached over 70mph, ripping up trees and rattling the buildings. Staff and volunteers spent days afterwards checking and clearing trails, removing fallen branches and trees and ensuring The Lodge was safe for visitors again. The trails are all open again now due to their hard work.

It can be sad to see so many trees flattened, particularly as some have been on the reserve for many years. One of the saddest outcomes of the storm was the damage inflicted on the champion strawberry tree in the gardens. The strong gusts tore off several of its main branches. The strawberry tree did fare better than scores of other trees across the reserve, some of which were uprooted. However, there are reasons to be optimistic.

 Snapped branches on the strawberry tree

Snapped branches on the strawberry tree

Walking around The Lodge, even before the recent storms, you might notice that the woods are not too tidy – when it’s safe to do so, trees are left where they fall. This is a deliberate decision made by the reserve team and not an oversight!

Fallen trees can provide wonderful opportunities for wildlife to thrive. The huge, downed pines you can see from the bridleway have created sunlit holes in the canopy above, letting in light that encourages new saplings to grow in their place. The warden and volunteer team had previously planted blackthorn, aspen, crab-apple, oak, hornbeam and hawthorn in such locations, where they have better chances of thriving with open access to sunlight and rainfall and are home to a variety of different species.

The warden inspecting fallen trees

The decaying fallen trees become a crucial part of the ecosystem, creating homes for thousands of ‘saproxylic’ (deadwood) invertebrates. Beetle larvae, such as those from the longhorn family, feast upon the rotting wood, boring through the trunk and helping to break it down, adding nutrients to the soil. These invertebrates in turn are predated on by larger creatures.

It is not only invertebrates who make a meal out of the deadwood. The Lodge has had over 600 species of fungi recorded on the reserve, making it a fantastic site for toadstools, slimes, mushrooms and moulds. Again, the fungi are vital in breaking down the larger matter into nutrient rich soil and play a crucial role in the ecosystem.

Even the standing dead trees have something to offer. They are the preferred home for lesser spotted woodpeckers and make fantastic perching spots for spotted flycatchers to hunt flying insects from. Bats and bees often reclaim vacant holes left by woodpeckers, ensuring that trees continue to provide shelter long after they have died.

If you do visit The Lodge, why not take a minute to look at a fallen or dead tree. See how many signs of new life are on it.

  A spotted flycatcher

A spotted flycatcher. Photo courtesy of Robin Gilmore