Habitat piles

Habitat piles have become an excuse for lazy forestry practice and most importantly a health hazard in the woods

by Michael Smith (Veshengro), RFA, EcoFor

I know that habitat piles, themselves, sound like a disease but it is not, though they can be a pain in the posterior of the professional forester and the agriculturalist concerned with healthy trees.

The idea of the habitat piles, leaving forest debris in the woods, came from misguided environmentalists and the practice was forced upon woodland managers, foresters and those responsible for woodlands in parks by said misguided people. They claimed and still claim that such piles are good for the environment and wildlife. The fact, however, is that neither is the case.

Habitat piles are not only not all that beneficial to the environment and wildlife, they are in fact a threat to the woods and to the global climate.

In the first instance, the threat to the woods, they are, as said, a hazard to tree health, as they harbor all kinds of dangerous pathogens and also dangerous fungi that attack standing living trees.

In the second case the fact that the wood in those so-called habitat piles decays and by doing so releases two greenhouse gases of which one if CO2 and the other methane. The latter is a gas that is reckoned to be many times more dangerous to the climate than is even CO2 and this is where the piles again are not beneficial at all.

Therefore the habit of habitat piles – pardon the slight pun – should be ceased forthwith, and the the Forestry Commission also appears to agree with this and appears to, in fact, call for the very cessation of this practice. This cannot come soon enough and a great majority of the not too old piles should be removed as well before they do any more damage.

However, this practice has now become widespread even among woodsmen and foresters believing, having been more or less brainwashed, that they do good for the environment, in that they leave almost every pile of branches as habitat piles. It is so much easier also rather than having to burn the stuff or do anything else with them and it amounts to nothing more now as lazy forestry practice in the guise of environmentalism.

Properly created habitat piles are of use but not the heaps of branches thrown higgledy-piggledy together and left in the woods. They should be created with care and ideally be logs set into the ground in a fashion. All else is just a pretense and rubbish, and also, as said, lazy woodland- and forestry management practice.

In years past, before the idea of habitat piles, woodlands and forests generally had a “clean floor” policy, which means that all debris from thinning and felling was either burned on site or made use of in one way or the other.

Very little in the way of debris and even fallen dead branches were left laying. Fallen branches belonged to the estovers who had the right to collect firewood, including by hook and by crook, from woods and commons. Still, however, the woods thrived and so did the wildlife, from invertebrates to fungi and everything in between.

In those days of old when there was the “clean floor” policy there were also fewer diseases in the woodlands and forests that there are today. Could this, just maybe, have something to do with that practice?

© 2013