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The Art of Natural Forest Practice
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Spot the insect
Top Left - a wild bee pollinating yellow archangel (ancient woodland ground flora)
Top Right - hundreds, maybe thousands of insets in a shaft of sunlight in a forest glade


Insects make the forest work

Creepy-crawlies sting and bite us, suck our blood, regard us as potential food and a threat to their nest.  We view them as obnoxious pests that interfere with our growing trees and which must be exterminated.  So retrograde is this that on searching the internet I found information only species identification and pest control, and nothing on the role of insects in the woodland community!
In fact, insects are incredibly beautiful, complex and varied critters that should capture our imagination and hold us in wonder.  Worldwide numbers are declining, yet we know very little about what is happening in our woodlands.

So why should we take an interest in insects?
* What benefit are they to our woodland and forest?  What is their role in the forest community?  Where are they to be found?  Where do they lay their eggs?  Where do they over-winter? What is their life cycle?
* In fact insects play a crucial role in the functioning of the forest community.  We just have to look round - some insects, including caterpillars, are eaten by birds, others seek nectar and in the process pollinate the forest flowers (which includes trees), and some inexplicably nip the topmost bud off small trees.  They are thus an indispensable part of the ecosystem crucial for a healthy forest - even though we may understand very little about their purpose.

Why is there such a rich abundance and diversity of insects?
* There are more insect species than all our other native trees and flowering plants, birds and mammals put together.  Why?  Could it be that insects, being rather small, relate to the micro-habitat of leaf, ground litter, decaying bark, etc, have evolved to provide for its particular needs.  Thus there is a huge diversity and yet the number of species in each family can be relatively small.
* The huge numbers of each species must also be significant.  Just look in the shaft of sunlight penetrating a woodland glade!  Surely this huge surplus is somehow part of the ecosystem of the woodland community and must thus maintain their population?  We know from Darwin to expect the answer to be complex (refer to panel left - The Origin of Species).
* It is thus our job as forest carers to ensure that the diversity of habitat is maintained.

So why are insects so important for the forest? 

* I observe that their purpose is many fold - pollinating trees and other plants (each requiring a different strategy and thus another species of insect) they contribute to making seed, provide food for a range of species, clear rotting flesh of decaying fauna and assist in breaking down decaying wood and plant material.
* In the natural forest ecosystem, they should I believe be in balance, so no one species becomes out of control and causes damage.  Only when there is external intervention, exceptional weather, (sever drought or prolonged wet) or the hand of man planting mono-cultures or introducing alien species, is this balance disturbed and some species multiply while others decline.               


Who eats who and what else?
* For food, insects eat other insects, caterpillars, flowers, leaves, decaying wood, nectar, blood, decaying flesh, fungi, and much else.  Insects
are a food source for just about everyone else in the forest, most notably perhaps, birds and bats.

Where to look for creepy-crawlies
* They are to be found everywhere, hardly a corner of the woodland is without; flies, beetles, bees, dragon flies/ larvae, moths, butterflies, wasps, spiders.  The list is long and complex.
* Look for them by night and day, in shady places, shafts of sunlight, under open sky, in dark closed woodland, pools, streams, dry areas, under leaves and bark, under logs and decaying matter on the ground, and on a sunny day at all times of the year, even in the air around us!
* It can be useful to recognise the family groups, but beyond that identification is complex and you will need help.  Don’t look for just adult insects, but also eggs and larvae.  An entomologist’s help can be invaluable.

Diverse habitats
* The greater the variety of habitat and the damper and more moist the woodland (streams, ponds, springs, seepages, etc), the greater will be the numbers and diversity of insects.  Dry woodland, lacking a stream, spring or pond, will be noticeably deficient in many species and numbers of insects.  They are to be found at all levels in the forest, at all times of year, from ground to treetop - under logs, loose bark, leaves, etc, especially leafy thickets, animal fur, birds (including their nests), etc.

Action!  What can I do?
* Our small, fragmented woodlands, have great opportunity to recreate the ancient forest in miniature.  A woodland that is receiving the right care and attention is likely to have more insects than one with none (kind for kind).  On the other hand blanket thinning of the trees and a clean sweep of the shrub and ground cover is bad for insects.
* Aim to create a rich diversity.  Make small glades, create ponds, pools, stagnant and running water, decaying logs on the woodland floor (roll over to see who’s there but put  it back),  A friendly dowser can be useful.
* You can make artificial old trees (refer to Cavity Trees).  Beetle houses can be made when felling a tree.  Leave the stump 200 to 250mm high and in this cut two or more horizontal slots with a chainsaw.  With most, leave the top attached to the base, but occasionally make the top detachable so that you can check who’s living there.  You may be surprised.
* The only limit is our own imagination!

Can you add to this page?
especially photos of insects in their forest setting.
Your experience and comment would be greatly appreciated. 
Please use- Contact Us.

dragonflyinsect galleries
Insects photographed in the woodland
dragonfly, insect galleries in decaying log, cobweb.
Do you have photos of insects in the forest
that I can add to this?



"It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us".
From the last paragraph of The Origin of Species  6th Edition by Charles Darwin.






beetle house

Beetle house
Birch tree felled a 8 or 10 inches high with top removed to view
galleries cut in the wood.  Home to baby lizards, worms,
spider eggs, various beetles, slugs and more.




Reference:- D. Bevan, Forest Insects,
Forestry Commission, London, Handbook 1, 1987