Thursday, 29 November 2018

Piles, heaps and twigs

As the leaves fall,  bracken dries and droops  and the wood grows gradually barer and barer, the heaps reappear on the woodland floor. Every time we fell a tree, the trunks are trimmed and stacked for firewood, but for every set of neatly cut trunks there still remains a great mass of brash - that is thin branches, leaves and twigs. This stuff is endlessly useful as additional deer protection for small saplings, as anti squirrel devices, But there is always more than we can use, which ends up being left in piles around the wood. It takes a surprisingly long time to decay, and while it is hidden by the bracken during the summer, at this time of the year the piles and heaps reemerge.

Some heaps show obvious signs of being used as shelters. We see indentations where creatures have pushed their way in, maybe to hide from a passing predator overhead. Sometimes there are bigger tunnels which lead into the middle of the heap. Wrens are particularly fond of a good heap of twiggy sticks, and are often found hunting for insects.

The mundane twig hardly ever gets a mention on this blog. We talk a lot about the trees, flowers, fungi and wildlife, but twigs hardly figure. Maybe we just take them for granted, as they are such an ordinary part of the landscape. Yet by sheer volume, twigs - whether growing or drying in heaps - form a huge part of the woodland biomass. And they're just as useful to us as they are to creatures.  Dry birch twigs are still the best kindling. One regular job is to collect a big bag every week to light the home fire with.

In former times twigs were much more valued as a woodland product. Now they're rather overlooked. The papers had a good scoff at this online retailer selling a bundle of decorative twigs for £40. They claim they sold out, but I suspect that's just a story to save face. More interesting was this picture I found on the SWOG Facebook page of brash being bundled up for sale to create temporary hurdles. It could have been taken 100 years ago. Looks like birch twigs to me.

Thanks to Tim Davis for photo