Dead wood is full of living things – rotting wood is both home and food for various beetle grubs and a vast army of other mini-beasts. All these creatures make a tasty snack for birds, hedgehogs and frogs.
Log piles also make damp, cool retreats in the heat of summer, and frost-free hibernation sites in winter. For both these reasons they’re popular with amphibians once they’ve left the water after breeding. Perhaps the most spectacular garden deadwood denizen is the 50mm (2 in) stag beetle, which is found in light soils south of a line from the Wash to Bristol. Its larva will stay in old wood for up to six years before emerging as an adult to mate.
Five ways to use logs in the garden
You can get logs from tree surgeons or firewood dealers. If you’re lucky, some pieces may already contain beetle grubs which could hatch and populate your garden. Native wood is best, but really anything will do.
Five log pile dwellers
Devil’s coach horse. Odd-looking predatory beetle which curls its tail defensively – even at humans. Reportedly eats vine weevil, a rapidly-spreading plant pest.
Lithobius centipede. Up close, a gorgeous honey-brown critter with huge poison fangs. An invertebrate methuselah, it may live for four years.
Lesser stag beetle. Often arrives hidden in firewood logs as a large grub. Save any with signs of holes or rot, and adults may emerge in June.
Common toad. May live for 10 years if you provide a friendly garden and hefty log pile hibernation site. Likes sparser ponds than frogs and newts.
Woodlouse. ‘Piggies’ are eaten by birds and specialised Dysdera spiders whose jaws can pierce human skin.