Members and friends are invited to study these policies and provide advice on improvements and additions.
Why bother retaining dead wood?
Wood is valuable, alive or dead. Dead wood is an essential part of many non-farmed ecosystems. Clearing native vegetation for farming has changed ecosystems and caused loss of biodiversity and species extinctions. Further losses of native vegetation, including dead wood , will exacerbate the problem; the more depleted of wood the landscape becomes, the greater the effect will be on ecosystems and biodiversity.
Dead timber includes fallen branches, sticks, rotten logs, solid logs, standing dead trees, and stumps.
The term "dead wood" is misleading as it implies the wood is no longer useful. However dead wood is in the phase of "life" where it is releasing into its surroundings all the energy it captured during its life. The valuable energy stored in wood is released or converted slowly as wood-eating plants and animals such as fungi and termites digest the wood and are themselves eaten by other life forms. The slow breakdown of the wood in a large log supports a web of living things from worms and beetles to birds, lizards, frogs, bats, possums and gliders for decades or longer. In contrast, when the wood is burnt, none of the energy goes into this food web. It goes rapidly into the air as carbon dioxide contributing to greenhouse gases.
Dead wood is also valuable habitat for birds, lizards and echidnas; it provides
- Shelter from predators and nursery for young of ground-dwelling animals
- Nesting hollows for arboreal species
- Shelter from weather
- Perching sites for bird, roosting sites for bats.
Larger logs and standing timber provides excellent shelter for farm animals off shears and in cold wet and windy weather. They can save stock from dying and reduce feed requirements when feed can be a limiting production factor. Fallen timber reduces surface wind speed and therefore the likelihood of wind erosion and traps air-born soil and vegetable material.
To preserve and improve biodiversity we need to retain as much dead wood as possible on farm. However many landholders regard dead wood as "rubbish". Sticks, rotten logs, solid logs and even furniture grade logs are sometimes burnt just to "tidy up" in paddocks well away from buildings where fire risk might have been a factor.
Why does Biodiversity matter?
EFN agrees that sustainable populations of native animals dependent on dead wood are an asset. But EFN considers that value of biodiversity and the overall health of the system we rely on is not accurately indicated by the current economic measures. It also believes that we have an obligation to not eliminate native populations from the land, and that we must design profitable farming methods around our remnant biodiversity. This contrasts with allowing biodiversity space only if it can give measurable benefits, such as adding to our profitability.
Keeping wood unburnt also stores carbon in a solid form, with benefits for our budget of greenhouse gas emissions. So, we suggest that farmers:
- Wherever possible, avoid "cleaning up" dead wood. This includes solid logs, hollow logs, standing dead trees and fallen branches.
- Work around the timber in the case of eradicating rabbits or foxes. Roll the log over or drag it aside to get at rabbit burrows if necessary.
- Move the timber permanently aside if necessary, for machinery work.
- Avoid piling up timber, as this creates rabbit harbour that is harder to work on.
- Adjust your ideas about dead wood. Instead of seeing it as messy and as rubbish, see it as an energy or food source, and safe place for native animals, and a valuable representative of the previous landscape which we should accommodate in our farmland, for the reasons referred to above.
- Make sure timber does not catch fire if you carry out any burning off.
- Make house "heat-seal" improvements and give it more thermal mass to reduce the need for firewood.
Croppers who consider that they cannot afford not to clear the last few paddocks of fallen timber could consider whether they would be prepared to work around the timber if it were alive. Dead wood is just as valuable as a live tree in terms of the other life it supports.
Farm Management Plans should take account of dead and fallen timber.
EFN to promote the retention of dead wood on farms as a best practice.