Saturday, 12 April 2014

an ancient hedge with some rare residents

 Last week I accompanied Patrick on a consultation job for a 90acre site near Exeter. It was a beautiful site consisting of ancient woodland and long established pasture with views out to the Exe estuary. It really felt like we were in the middle of nowhere and when we occasionally came over the brow of a hill to catch a glimpse of the city it always came as a surprise. One of the features I loved on the site were the acient hedgerows with some very old oak, ash and beech trees. The oaks in particular were amazing, their knarly forms telling tales of coppicing and pollarding and, as pictured above, hedge-laying.
But there was more of a treat in store within this line of trees. The old polarded oak pictured above had at some time dropped a branch. This had cause some rot to occur, which in time had dried and cracked, leaving a protected cavity in the trunk.

Sadly my little automatic camera couldn't pick them out very well, but buzzing in and out of the crack were a colony of honey bees. This is the first time I have ever seen a wild colony of honey bees in Britain, and with the current challenges they are facing, it was a very pleasing discovery. I would love to know if anyone else has seen a wild honeybee colony in Britain - please comment if you have.

This is also another reminder of the importance of leaving standing deadwood. It provides a different habitat to fallen deadwood and is host to different species, such as bees, other flying insects, birds and bracket fungi. We must therefore resist the urge to 'tidy up' woodland in the traditional way of woodland management and aim to allow structural diversity to increase bio-diversity.


  1. What a wonderful discovery - I wish I could say I had seen a wild bee colony. I have certainly observed the multitude of fungi and insects that are hosted by standing deadwood and I always feel the term 'dead'-wood seems terribly inaccurate considering the amount of life it is supporting. Admittedly however, I've so far not been able to think of a more fitting term.

  2. Hi Chris! You're right, there should be a more befitting term for it. I like the ecological term 'structural diversity' which conjures a great 3D picture of the living world with its infinate niches, like a living jigsaw puzzle.....well, it does for me anyway!