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Ivy project

March 13, 2013

Ivy is one of our most valuable wildlife plants and our only evergreen native climbing shrub. Given this, it is one of the species that we have chosen to target in our educational work. The only ivy native to the UK is Hedera helix. Only Hedera Helix has the full wildlife value as it bears flowers and berries which many of the cultivars do not. It has distinct juvenile and adult growth forms. It tolerates low light levels and a range of soils, favouring woodland where it provides good ground cover. In winter it benefits insects and small mammals by providing a foraging area for ground feeding birds such as thrushes and dunnocks. The dense vertical cover provides an ideal shelter and roost site for birds and bats such as the pipistrelle. Many species of bird such as wren, dunnock, blackbird and spotted flycatcher nest in ivy covered walls or trees. Several moth species depend on ivy as a larval food-plant and caterpillars of species such as the swallow-tailed moth, the old lady and the willow beauty can often be found feeding on the leaves. The holly blue butterfly is dependent on ivy as a food plant for its second generation caterpillars. Many species of butterfly (including Red admiral), moth, hoverfly, green bottle, wasp and bee are attracted to fuel up for hibernation at the flowers. It provides a very rich late summer to autumn nectar food, when other nectar sources are scarce; indeed queen wasps depend on these December flowers. The berries are an important food source for birds, including blackbirds, woodpigeons, collared doves, robins and blackcaps as well as small mammals such as wood mice.

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Comma, Painted Lady, small tortoiseshell and brimstone butterflies hibernate in ivy.

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Ivy is not parasitic and draws sustenance through its earth roots, using the fibber fingers only to cling to non living, non vascular vertical bark surfaces. Indeed ivy becomes self supporting and can often retain its upright bush form after the death and decay of a tree, hence extending the valuable habitat. Ivy wood is strong yet flexible and has a forking characteristic; it has traditionally been used to make pitch forks. The plant has a range of folk uses. Ivy only climbs relatively mature trees and does not cause many problems. People often think that it is taking over a tree; however what is happening is that the tree may be old or have a fungal infection that is to blame for its reduced canopy and the ivy is taking advantage to fill the void and provide a new wildlife habitat. The spread of the plant in the crown of the tree can deprive the leaves in the tree canopy of sunlight. In the case of a dead or dying tree, it is possible that the wind could catch ivy and cause break out but more often ivy protects tree trunks by dissipating wind. In such cases strategic trimming of the ivy foliage can help (it is not all trimmed at once but the impact to wildlife is spread by rotating the areas trimmed over a number of years) but cutting the ivy stem is pointless, it will not reduce the foliage but will be unsightly and useless to wildlife. This work should be a last resort: avoid trimming during flowering and fruiting (berries stay on the bush between November and April), avoid bird nesting season (March-July) and get a professional bat survey as bat roosts are protected by law.

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