Farming With Nature: Creating microclimates and habitats with fallen trees

Rebecca Hosking
Tuesday, 10th February 2015

Rebecca Hosking describes why a fallen tree can provide more than just shelter but a haven for wildlife and beneficial fungi, creating microclimates and habitats and cycling nutrients. Organic gardeners do this on a smaller scale with log piles.

We are purposely placing large fallen tree trunks in our most windswept fields. You would be right to ask why?!

Ever since these fields were first created in the Bronze Age over 2,000 years ago, generations of farmers have been slowly emptying out all the trees, shrubs, stones, rocks, ponds, streams, marshes and most of their natural vegetation. All in the name of the plough.

Over the centuries, the plough has levelled much of the topography, leaving us with what we have today, namely pasture as featureless as an airstrip.

At Village Farm, we use no chemical fertilsers as we are farming with nature, not against her. We therefore do not want to plough - in fact we never intend to plough ever again - as it's incredibly damaging to the environment. So after thousands of years of our predecessors emptying out our fields, we actually want to fill them back up with organic matter again and give our land as much resilience as possible.

We intend to plant new saplings in a few weeks time but young trees are never going to give us the same properties as old decaying wood does. For our livestock an old dead tree instantly works as a windbreak and similarly shade in the summer. It also gives them something to explore and more importantly it acts as an itching post.

Additionally, an old fallen tree creates micro-climates for the surrounding vegetation, creating warm little sun-traps, shadows and collecting moisture. As it decays, it hugely increases the fungi levels in our overworked bacteria ridden soils, thereby increasing organic matter and nutrient cycling.

Lastly here's a cool fact for you: One native decaying tree (in the UK) is home to on average 1,700 invertebrate species, which in turn are food for birds, bats, mice, lizards, toads, foxes, badgers etc.

Yet sadly because people view fallen trees as scruffy and poor management practice, decaying wood is now one of the rarest habitats on farmland. So for us this is just one of many tree stumps we hope position.

We have decided to nickname such items as our 'Field Furniture'. You've heard of Garden Furniture? Well this is the next level up! We are welcoming in the insects, mammals, fungi, nutrients, and a warm place to rest out of the wind for our farm animals.

Further Resources!

Farming With Nature: why we welcome moles on the farm

Farming With Nature: Rewilding Pasture

Rebecca Hosking and Tim Green made the film Farm For the Future for the BBC exploring peak oil, climate change and permaculture.

They now run Village Farm, featured in Permaculture 83. In 'Farming With Nature', by Maddy Harland she describes how Village Farm is being transformed from a grazed out, ploughed out landcsape into a biodiverse farm with the help of holistic grazing, hedgerow regeneration, tree planting and other regenerative techniques.

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