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How to make a log pile to provide shelter for garden wildlife

Building a log pile can boost your local biodiversity by giving a home and shelter to some of the smaller inhabitants of your garden.

They are easy to assemble and require little maintenance.

Watch our video for instructions, then read on for construction tips and to find out which animals might move in.

For your wildlife log pile you will need:

  • logs
  • sticks
  • dry leaves
  • loose bark

1. Find a damp, shady spot and create a base layer of logs.

2. Push some sturdy sticks into the ground on both sides of your logs, to stop them rolling away.

3. Fill any gaps between your logs with dry leaves.

4. Add a layer of loose bark.

5. Continue adding alternate layers of logs, sticks, bark and leaves, finishing in a pyramid shape. To ensure the log pile is stable, place your biggest logs towards the bottom of the pile.

6. Keep the log pile damp by watering it during dry spells.

You can keep watch throughout the year to see what is using the log pile, such as beetles, woodlice and centipedes. Why not record your observations in a nature journal? You can make a paper one or use our digital version.

A small log pile, held between stick

A completed log pile offers a range of different nooks and crannies for your garden wildlife.

How log piles support a range of wildlife

A log pile is the perfect habitat for a range of invertebrates, small mammals and amphibians. The damp environment of logs, bark and leaves provide small places to shelter in and interesting food sources.

Some creatures will take up permanent residence, while many animals are active at night, so need a safe space during the day. Others may use it as a frost-free location to overwinter.

Over time, as the wood decays and softens, more animals will be able to make their home in it. Your log pile may also grow visible fungi and mosses.

Tips on building the best log pile

  • When sourcing logs, you could use tree prunings or ask friends and neighbours if they have any offcuts. Don't take logs from woods or other wildlife sites because you might be disturbing established habitats.
  • Keeping the log pile moist will provide homes for the greatest variety of wildlife. However, a very shady log pile might be too cold for some insects to live in.
  • You can encourage shade-loving plants such as primroses and ferns to grow around or over your log pile. This can make your logs look more attractive and provide extra shelter.
  • To create a broader range of habitats, partially bury the initial layer of logs, rather than leave them resting on the surface.

Adapting your log pile to help stag beetles

If you live in southeast England then you can help to protect the endangered greater stag beetle (Lucanus cervus). These charismatic beetles, the UK's largest, require dead wood for their larvae to eat and live in.

You'll need to adapt your log pile by partially burying your wood. This is called a stumpery.

Dig a hole about 50 centimetres deep, then place your logs upright into the ground. Fill in the gaps with soil and pack it down to secure your stumps.

You can use logs with a mixture of different widths and lengths to make your stumpery more visually attractive.

As the wood rots it can provide a home for stag beetle larvae. They will live for several years underground before emerging as adult beetles.

What animals might live in a log pile?

Woodlice

A woodlouse on bark

The common woodlouse (Oniscus asellus) is widespread across the UK and can grow up to 16mm long. © Photopippo via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Woodlice may look like insects, but they are actually crustaceans and are more closely related to animals that live in water, such as shrimps and lobsters.

Although woodlice live on land, they breathe through gills which require moist air to function.

The damp environment of a log pile is a perfect home for them. Good recyclers, they eat the decaying plant matter and fungi.

Find out more about woodlice on our YouTube channel.

Woodlouse spider

A woodlouse spider on a piece of wood

The woodlouse spider grows up to 15mm long. Its legs and front half of its body are orange-red, while its back half is a paler beige.

Where there are woodlice you may find one of their predators - the woodlouse spider (Dysdera crocata). They are widespread in southern Britain but rarer in the north.

Rather than spin webs, these spiders actively hunt their prey at night. They have large fangs for their size - perfect for piercing the hard exoskeletons of woodlice and other invertebrates.

Beetles

A large variety of beetles may come to your log pile, looking for food, shelter or a home for their larval stages. Here are three of the larger beetles you might see:

Lesser stag beetle

A lesser stack beetle on a branch

A female lesser stag beetle. These beetles have matt-black bodies, while greater stag beetles have shiny brown wing cases.© TYNZA/ Shutterstock.com

Not to be confused with the greater stag beetle, the lesser stag beetle (Dorcus parallelipipedus) is more widespread across the southern half of Britain.

Although they lack the large jaws of the male greater stag beetle, adults still reach an impressive size of up to 32 millimetres.

Their larvae live on dead wood where they can take a few years to develop. Unlike their larger cousins, adults can live for over a year so you may find them overwintering in your log pile.

Violet ground beetle

A violet ground beetle on a flagstone

Violet ground beetles are widespread throughout England, Wales and Scotland, but aren't found in Ireland. © Monika Betley via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

This beetle is up to 30 millimetres long, black and shiny with a purple tint to the edges of its wing case and body. The violet ground beetle (Carabus violaceus) doesn't fly but it is a fast runner and hunts on the ground.

It is carnivorous and can eat quite large invertebrates such as slugs, snails, earthworms and caterpillars. As the beetle is generally active at night, it may shelter in your log pile in the day.

Devil's coach horse

A devils' coach horse beetle raising its abdomen

A devil’s coach horse in a defensive pose. It can be found throughout the UK but is common further south. © Katya from Moscow via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The devil’s coach-horse (Ocypus olens) is another carnivorous, ground-based beetle that hunts at night. It is matt black, with an elongated body shape and can grow up to 30 millimetres long. When threatened, the beetle can raise its rear end in a scorpion-like display and release a foul-smelling liquid.

Overwintering bumblebees

A red-tailed bumblebee on a yellow flower

Queen red-tailed bumblebees (Bombus lapidarius) need to find a place to hibernate over winter. © Martin Cooper via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Unlike honeybees that gather in large hives, bumblebees form small social colonies that only last for a year then die off. New bumblebee queens have to hibernate on their own over winter before forming a new colony.

The queens typically dig themselves just under the earth, where they won't be warmed up too early by any winter Sun. A log pile can provide the perfect shaded protection for them.

Frogs, newts and toads

Common toad sheltering in a rocky crevice

Amphibians look for places to shelter, such as this common toad (Bufo bufo) in a crevice. ©davemhuntphotography/Shutterstock.com

Amphibians may forage for food in your log pile or they may come for shelter.

In the autumn, amphibians need a damp, frost-free place to hibernate. Although some may stay in their ponds, most find a place on land. A log pile is an ideal location for them.

Read about other ways you can help frogs and toads.

Centipedes and millipedes

A black millipede on moss

The black millipede (Tachypodoiulus niger) is one of the commonest millipedes in Britain and Ireland. © Stemonitis via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.5)

While both types of these many-legged creatures can be found sheltering in your log pile, centipedes and millipedes do have differences in appearance and behaviour.

Millipedes are generally rounder and their legs are tucked under their bodies. A centipede's body is flatter and their legs stick out. Millipedes have more legs, with two pairs on each of their body segments compared to a centipede's single pair.

Millipedes are slow moving - they mostly graze on decaying plant matter. In contrast, centipedes, are fast, venomous hunters that prey on insects, spiders and slugs.

Slugs

A leopard slug crawling on stone

The leopard slug (Limax maximus) has distinctive markings and can grow over 15cm in length. © Rl via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

There are around 40 slug species in Britain. Some of these are frequent garden visitors, such as the leopard or great grey slug (Limax maximus) and the garden slug (Arion hortensis).

Most slugs are herbivores. Some species might enjoy your flowers and vegetables, but others will be recyclers and eat decaying material. In turn, they are eaten by a range of animals, including hedgehogs, birds and beetles.

As slugs lack the protective shell of their snail relatives, they need to take care not to dry out. They burrow underground or hide in dark nooks in the day, then become more active at night.

Slugs produce slime with a variety of interesting properties. Slime on their soft body keeps them moist and can give some protection from predators. Slime on their foot acts as a lubricant but is also sticky enough to enable them to crawl up walls.

Earwigs

An earwig on a leaf

The common earwig (Forficula auricularia). Male earwigs have curved pincers, the females have straight ones.Courtesy of Francisco Welter-Schultes via Wikimedia Commons (CC0)

These distinctive insects are brown with elongated, flattened bodies and a pair of pincers at the end of their abdomens. The common earwig (Forficula auricularia) is widespread in Britain and grows up to 15 millimetres long.  

Earwigs eat plant and insect material, dead or alive. They hunt at night and find dark, cool places - such as log piles - to shelter in during the day.

Unlike many insects, an earwig mother looks after her young. She will lay a batch of eggs in autumn in an underground nest, then overwinter with them. She cleans and guards the eggs and protects the young hatchlings when they emerge in spring.

Why are they called earwigs? Not because they will crawl into your ear, as you might have been told as a child, but probably because of their wings. Although they rarely fly, earwigs have beautiful iridescent wings that resemble the shape of human ears.

An unfurled, iridescent earwig wing

The rarely seen iridescent wing of an earwig, in this case a South American species, Pyragra fuscata.