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Piling on the brush:
When next you wander across a cut-over woodland, take a look at the brush piles left by the harvesters. Soft plant tissue quickly decays, but bigger branches casually thrown across the old stumps can last for years, providing habitat for many small mammals, birds and invertebrates. Shelter and escape cover are necessary for all species – the record of tracks, feeding sites and scats shows how important such a pile can be. The pile slowly weathers and decays, with one group of organisms giving way to another as time passes.
Creating a brush pile:
You can create your own brush piles in a backyard wild garden or wood-lot. Make a base with larger logs or stones, leaving room for tunnels and nests (some peo-ple add drainage tile to the base). Add branches, larger ones first – twisting them together to interlock and provide stability. Keep piling on the brush until you have a structure at least a few feet high, and as long as you like. A couple of these per acre will add needed diversity, and provide a place where you may meet new friends. Squirrels and chipmunks, for instance.
If you have the right connections, salamanders may move in. A whole host of invertebrates – insects, crustaceans such as sowbugs, arachnids – will provide food for the hungry. Ever seen land snails? If you provide moist habitat in a brush pile, you’ll see them here.
Such a brush pile will last for years, and needs only minimum maintenance, such as adding to the brush as it decays. The pile will soon be bounded, sometimes covered, with fast-growing plants which add to the beauty and complexity of this habitat. You may choose to integrate a pile into other structures, such as a pool edge. In any case you will discover new aspects of life, with the expenditure of very little time and energy. Enjoy!
Field edges on the Island are often bounded by long lines of rock, picked from the cultivated land and thrown, more or less at random, along the fence. Sometimes these are the remains of stone dykes, used as early fences – but more often they are a lasting memorial to nuisance rocks. Abandoned farms, reverting to woodland, can still be traced by these unintended marker lines. Now shaded by the returning trees, the rocks seem to be growing back into the earth from whence they came.
A single bare rock is perhaps not terribly interesting, but put a few hundred (or a few hundred thousand) together with time and a delightful story unfolds. The raw rock becomes colonized with bacteria and lichens; its surface is now alive. Crustose lichens such as Buellia grow slowly, forming roughly circular patterns. Later foliose types like the common Parmelia can gain a foothold. Given a little moisture foliose types like the common Parmelia can gain a foothold. Given a little moisture and time, the rocks become almost covered with several species of lichens. Lichen chemistry adds colours of grey, green, red and brown.
Lichen growth weathers the rock, and with this and wind-blown dust a primitive soil starts to form in cracks and hollows. Now tiny mosses add to the floral mix and other lichens such as reindeer moss (Cladonia spp) appear in clumps. As this mix of lichens, mosses and higher plants continues to thrive, the rocks seem to be sinking back into the ground.
Such a rock habitat is used by snakes and toads. A male ruffed grouse may find this an attractive drumming site. Foxes will follow a rock line, as they do a brook or wood edge – a sure sign that there must be food here. Such a site is a great place to sit and just soak up nature.
Creating a rock pile:
Nothing could be simpler – just build mounds with whatever rock you can get your hands on, and move without fear of personal injury. These are dandy as a part of a wild garden, or at the edge of a pond or woodlot. Put large rocks on the bottom, and a few flat ones on top for sunbathers. Drainage tile underneath will add additional tunnels. The nice thing about this sort of construction is that there are no time-lines to meet, no structure that needs to be protected from weather, no beginning nor end. Just add rocks whenever the need strikes you.