Windblow and deadwood in forests can be a good thing

7th September 2022

Although storm damage can hinder public access to forests, deadwood and windblown trees are not always an eyesore: they’re an essential part of the forest ecosystem.

The message from Forestry and Land Scotland is that sometimes our forests need to be less ‘tidy’.

Managing deadwood is becoming a vital part of FLS’s work in Scotland’s national forests, both to enhance habitats and promote biodiversity.

In a bid to increase the amount of deadwood in Scotland’s forests, forest managers now leave all sorts of deadwood features, including dying and dead standing trees, stumps, lying timber and piles of logs to make sure there’s the right age and mix of deadwood habitats for all kinds of species.

Up to a third of all European forest species depend on deadwood for their survival.

Alongside normal harvesting and storm clearance work, a proportion of the windblown trees in all the forests affected by the winter storms is being retained where this does not compromise health and safety or prevent access for visitors. This practice us now an integral part of modern-day sustainable forest management and a requirement of forest certification. For example:

  • In Deeside at Cambus o’ May forest FLS are retaining windblown Scots Pine as cover for iconic pinewood species such as Capercaillie and leaving some fallen and standing (snapped trees) that will, in time, become deadwood. They’ll be clearing some small patches and planting Rowan and other native broadleaves as part of a project with rare invertebrates in the Cairngorms to enhance the habitat for the pine hoverfly, a red-listed species.
  • In Aberdeenshire’s largest forest, Clashindarroch FLS is retaining pockets of windblow to provide cover for dens, as part of on-going management of the forest for the Scottish wildcat.

In some forests FLS is working with fisheries trusts and SEPA to use windblown trees to create instream woody debris, leaky dams and debris dams to enhance the habitat of rivers and streams and help natural flood management.

Speaking about the windblow and deadwood programme, Philippa Murphy, FLS Environment Advisor  (East Region) said:

“Stumps, dead and dying trees, fallen branches and windblow trees all provide valuable habitats.  There’s loads of research that shows that the more types of deadwood you have in an area, the more deadwood-dependent species you will support.  Providing a range of deadwood is a simple and rapid way to increase biodiversity.  It is also very cost effective!

Standing trees with broken tops, die slowly and provide cracks and rot holes for bats, woodpeckers, pine marten and a host of creepy crawlies.

Fallen deadwood is great for mosses, lichens and fungi and if piles are left on the ground, they can provide shelter and dens for mammals and birds.

And allowing deadwood from our forests to enter watercourses really enhances habitat for fish.  For example, a log on the riverbed will alter the flow of water, causing ravels and silts will settle in different places downstream of the log, creating a range of micro-habitats for the different life stages of salmon and trout, and for their insect prey.

Eventually, new trees will regenerate or be planted around deadwood.

It’s all about working with nature to make our forests more natural.  The trouble is that dead trees and decaying logs don’t look attractive to everybody, but we need to learn to love it!