Farming with Habitat - Messy Paddocks
A couple of months ago we had some lovely visitors to the farm. We took them on a bit of a tour and they mentioned the large amount of fallen timber in our paddocks. “Plenty of firewood here - enough for a lifetime, how come there is so much wood in the paddocks”, they asked.
I said that the fallen logs were a result of tree ring barking that had taken place many years before we bought the property in an attempt to clear the paddocks. On most farms these cleared trees are pushed together in a pile and burned. The previous owners didn’t do this for some reason and we have made a conscious decision not to for habitat reasons, besides which most are decaying already and not really any good for firewood.
I must admit I was a bit vague on the details of wanting to retain the wood for ‘habitat reasons’, I felt a little like I was faking it! I had read that it was desirable to keep fallen wood in the paddock, but really couldn’t add any detail. It made me go and check! I consulted these two fabulous books.
According to What Makes a Farm Good for Wildlife?, fallen logs are being increasingly recognized for a wide range of ecological roles. These include:
storing large amounts of carbon
storing large amounts of nutrients which are gradually returned to the soil
trapping leaf litter and holding up soil
increasing infiltration and retention of water in the soil
providing places for plants and fungi to germinate
providing foraging, breeding and sheltering spots for many kinds of animals (invertebrates, frogs, reptiles and animals and birds)
creating basking sites for reptiles and perching spots for birds
providing shelter for livestock, especially lambs
Cracking list isn’t it? Indeed we’ve seen several of these points above in action. Wombats seem to use fallen hollow logs quite a lot to hide - a bit like their burrows. Some birds like Hooded Robins regularly use fallen logs as hunting perches - high enough off the ground to see pray but not too high for quick pouncing!
On cold winter days ewes often leave their lambs on the sheltered side of fallen logs while they go off to graze. And our sheep regularly use fallen logs as scratching posts - sure saves pressure on our fences!
I took a look at Wildlife Conservation in Farm Landscapes and found this fantastic list of reptiles that use fallen logs.
Species that Shelter in Loose Soil beneath Large Logs
Eastern Three-toed Earless Skink
Blackish Blind Snake
Eastern Blue Tongue
Two-clawed Worm Skink
Bynoe’s Prickly Gecko
Species that Bask on Fallen Timber or Tree Trunks
Ragged Snake-eyed Skink
Elegant Snake-eyed Skink
Eastern Bearded Dragon
So now I wont be so vague in my answer on why fallen timber is good to leave in the paddock, and now I think I can say that messy = good! Celebrate the messy!