Wildlife Gardening - Woodland Habitat
Created | Updated Jun 29, 2014
Introduction | Mammals and Birds | Woodland Habitat
Insects, Amphibians and Reptiles | Wildflower Meadow | Water Habitat
Natural Slug Control | Natural Weed Control | The Winter Border
It is probably clearer to say 'woodland edge habitat', as most of our native woodland wildlife tends to live at the edge, rather than deep inside a wood. The woodland edge is also a lot easier to recreate in a garden, without the need for a large area of trees.
To attract a large range of woodland animals it should be understood that woodlands are made up of lots of different layers. The more layers you can replicate, the more species you will attract. The top layer will be the tallest trees, that have reached the top of the canopy. Then will be sub-canopy trees and shrubs. Below this grow the herbs and flowers of the woodland, and then on the bottom will be the lichens and mosses.
Smaller trees planted densely will do better than having just a few larger ones as they establish their root systems a lot quicker. A base of native trees should be established first, then other trees can be brought in. Anything that does not establish well can be removed.
Shrubs can represent an underlayer, or can be a transitional phase, known as scrub. This can be a very rich habitat for small creatures and some birds - typical of the edge habitats, they often support more than the main area.
Woodland flowers provide most of the colour and interest, and attract most of the insects. They have to be well adapted to growing under trees and being in full or partial shade, so you need to choose your species carefully. A good guide would be to walk through your local woods and see what grows well there.
Try not to plant any flowers until the trees and shrubs have grown to give enough shade. Otherwise, the flowers will dry out in summer, and may be smothered by plants seeking the light. When you do start to plant, put the bulbous species in groups to establish the sort of drifts seen in the wild, but allow other species to intermingle as they grow. As the bigger plants grow, the changes in light and soil give advantages to different plants.
Make sure that the bottom layer also has a rich layer of rotting organic material. This can be as simple as fallen leaves or branches, logs, and even stumps. This will develop naturally, but can be sped up by bringing other materials in.
Hedgehog houses can be built, and flowerpots stacked for hibernating toads. Keep your log pile topped up. It is also a good idea to put your compost heap here, so that it does not dry out in the sun.
Once the habitat becomes established, it will need less maintenance, although, to start with, it will need watching to see which plants are doing well, and if any need controlling or giving a helping hand.
Unless you are very short of space, the trees and shrubs will not need cutting back until they start to interfere with another habitat. Once they are very large you will need to work on them to keep the dappled shade, rather than have full shade. This can be done by cutting a few shrubs down to the ground every few years, a technique called coppicing. Allow each individual shrub or tree to grow for a minimum of five years before coppicing again.
Hedges can also be used as part of a woodland edge. Although never as rich as good woodland, they can keep a large range of wildlife. Butterflies often breed in hedges, birds can be found nesting in them, and many small mammals can be found using them as a home, or as a place to find food.
Small trees and shrubs can be planted beside a hedge to help the habitat develop. It is better to work with the north side of a hedge, so that the hedge bottom is shaded from the sun.
The best way to manage a hedge is to cut it in winter, not during the nesting season. It should be cut so that the hedge is thicker at the bottom than the top, forming an A shape, with plenty of cover at the base. Keep plenty of litter at the bottom and leave seed heads, leaves and other dead matter to attract hedgehogs, other small mammals, over-wintering insects, and visiting birds.