Tag Archives: Namib desert

Vintage Rot

Ambling across Tooting Graveney Common recently, I spotted this fabulous deadwood trunk.TGC standing deadwood

What is so great about it?  Two things.  It was a grafted tree and the graft union is still evident.  I’ve never seen this before in examples of deadwood, so I found it intriguing.  Secondly, and more importantly, standing deadwood is a precious habitat due to its scarcity.

Deadwood of any sort is crucial, as ‘vintage rot’¹ supports a huge variety of life. It is estimated that in the UK, 1700 insect species need this kind of wood at some point in their life cycle, and some of these number amongst the most endangered in Britain today. And different species require different types of deadwood. ‘The Vandal hand of tidiness’ as Oliver Rackham put it, combined with health & safety paranoia, means that standing deadwood is bound to be rarer than the prone sort.  Gardeners and park staff can try and compensate for their tendency to tidy up by creating log piles. While this is beneficial, it cannot substitute the vertical stuff, which is why it’s so pleasing to see something like this.

Of course, not all dead trunks behave in the same way.  I saw a TV programme the other day called ‘The Seven Wonders of the Commonwealth’.  In it, Anita Rani visited the oldest desert in the world, the Namib, where the average annual rainfall is as low as 2mm, and temperatures can soar above 50C.  Rani  went to ‘Dead Valley’, home to dead trees that are thought to be nearly a century old.  As there is so little moisture, this means the wood cannot rot.  I wonder if there are any specialist creatures that make use of these hard, dry boles.  It’s certainly a striking image, these ancient dead trees silhouetted against the ochre tints of the desert sands.


¹  A phrase borrowed from Ken Thompson


Roger Deakin, Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees (Penguin: 2008)

Ken Thompson, No Nettles Required: The Truth About Wildlife Gardening (eden project books: 2007)

The Seven Wonders of the Commonwealth, BBC2, 20/07/2014

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