A familiar and ever-present woodland plant, Ivy (Hedera helix) has something of a bad reputation. It’s often thought to overwhelm a ‘host’, as it creeps along tree trunks or over the ground, creating a dense, green umbrella of leaves. Of course, excessive ivy coverage can cause issues and may need managing if it’s on a building, but it also brings huge benefits to the wider natural environment that often go overlooked.

In the popular Christmas song, The Holly and the Ivy, it is celebrated as a symbol of eternal life thanks to its evergreen nature, and in truth it provides both food and shelter to a large variety of species. Well-established ivy creates its own micro-climate, can prevent soil erosion, and may even stabilise a tree it is growing over.

Dense ivy is a popular place for birds such a wrens, robins, and dunnocks to nest away from predators, and its late ripening berries are a high-fat treat for some birds, including thrushes and blackbirds, at a time of year where other food sources are scarcer.

 It also provides nectar for insects like bees, wasps, hoverflies, and butterflies, while beetles and spiders tuck themselves into its many nooks and crannies. Brimstone butterflies (Gonepteryx rhamni) even have an intriguing hibernation tactic, where they mimic dead ivy leaves and can remain undetected until the weather warms up enough for them to wake up.

Ivy is present in woodland and on individual trees at many CRT sites, not least the towering oaks of the Angela Hughes Nature Reserve along the old railway line at Bere Marsh Farm in Dorset, shown below.

The CRT’s head of wildlife monitoring Vince Lea said: “As an evergreen climber, ivy is quite a unique woodland plant. It flowers in late summer and early autumn, providing important nectar for insects and fruits slightly later. One of my favourite butterflies, the holly blue, lays its eggs in its flower buds, with the caterpillars feeding on the flowers when they hatch.”

If you would like to be get closer to nature at one of our farms, there are lots of ways to get involved

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 Published: 25th October 2023