In praise of Ivy

Mature Flowering Ivy at Taf Fechan by Graham Watkeys

Mature Flowering Ivy at Taf Fechan by Graham Watkeys

Red Admiral feeding on Ivy at Taf Fechan in late October by Graham Watkeys

Red Admiral feeding on Ivy at Taf Fechan in late October by Graham Watkeys

On my recent wanderings around both Taf Fechan and other local areas I’ve noticed several mature Ivy plants that have had their stems deliberately severed.   Ivy is such an important plant for the biodiversity of our woodlands removing mature plants could have a noticeable and real detrimental effect.  It may look like Ivy is strangling or damaging trees but it isn’t; healthy trees will suffer no ill effects from carrying Ivy.   It only becomes an issue on old or dying trees when it can act as a “sail” catching the wind possibly causing the tree to fall and then only if these trees are in an area where people or property might be put at risk.

Ivy has two major benefits for wildlife it provides both somewhere to live and something to eat. Firstly somewhere to live; mature Ivy’s dense evergreen canopy and climbing habit provides structural diversity, a complex mesh of tangled stems provides excellent nesting opportunities for birds and for Bats it provides somewhere to wait out the day.   Arguably this plant becomes even more important over winter as it provides safe places to hibernate for Butterflies, Comma, Brimstone, Red Admiral, and Small Tortoiseshell all use Ivy, and a whole range of other insects including Hoverflies, Moths and Ladybirds.

Ivy flowers late in the year; in fact it’s often the last source of nectar before the long dark and cold of winter.  If you want to find high densities and diversity of insects in late summer and well into autumn look for flowering Ivy, over just a few hours in mid-October last year I recorded 16 species of Hoverfly feeding on Ivy plus several other species of Flies, Butterflies, Bees, Bugs and Wasps.   It’s so intensely attractive you can often hear the hum and drone of insects from several metres away and this attraction continues into the night as many Moths also feed at Ivy.   After it finishes flowering it still provides food for Birds in the form of berries, these often last longer into the winter that other food sources providing a stopgap when things get tough.

Ivy is such an important plant, it in no way deserves the bad reputation it has and its unwarranted persecution threatens to make our woodlands less biodiverse places.

Graham Watkeys

Taf Fechan Nature Reserve volunteer warden

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The Ivy Bee (Colletes hederae): a recent arrival to the UK and an Ivy specialist found in my local cemetery.