Much-maligned ivy – an appeal to the public!
The Friends of Petersfield Heath are appealing to members of the public to respect ivy.
Recent reports of ivy having been cut from trees has alarmed our conservationists, who hope to convince you of the importance of this plant, a rich food source for a miriad of wild creatures.
The ivy we can see almost everywhere is Hedera helix (common ivy), an evergreen climber, growing to 20–30 m high where suitable surfaces, such as trees, walls and fences are available: it will also grow as ground-cover on banks in shaded conditions. Ivy climbs by means of aerial rootlets with matted pads that cling strongly to the surface. Its feeding roots are in the ground and aerial roots are for support of the flexible trunk and branch system. It is important to know that ivy is not parasitic on our trees, but it uses the trunks for support.
Ivy flowers open late in the year, in September to November, and are pollinated by insects such as hoverflies, bees, wasps, butterflies and moths. They are an important nectar source providing pollen for bees, at a time when there is little food for them. The ivy bee and small dusty wave moth are dependent on the flowers. In fact, the ivy bee times its entire life cycle around the ivy flowering. The leaves are a source of food for many butterflies and moths including angle shades, lesser broad-bordered yellow underwing, scalloped hazel, swallow-tailed moth and willow beauty. The second brood of the butterfly holly blue selects ivy for its egg laying for the start of its life cycle. The larva of the holly blue then feeds on the flower buds and berries of holly during the spring for its first brood. During the late summer and autumn months, coinciding with the second brood, it selects to feed on the flower buds and berries of ivy.
The berries are a favourite winter food for thrushes and if not eaten they remain on the plant until spring, providing an important food-source for young birds of the next generation. Branches and leaves of ivy also provide shelter and nesting sites for numerous birds, and a ready supply of insects for their diet.
The many insects that depend on ivy supply food for bats and birds to continue with their life cycles. pipistrelle, brown long-eared bat, Daubenton’s bat and noctule bat, all live on the Heath.
Sometimes it may be necessary to destroy ivy, where trees near to roads may be more susceptible to being blown down, or where statement trees are badly affected, with the ivy growing into the tree crown. However, when ivy is cut near its root source, it dies, remaining clinging and brown in the upper tree, looking an eyesore, and reducing the biodiversity of the Heath. There is no reason at all to treat ivy growing on trees within a woodland or copse. The window for ivy management, which should be undertaken by professionals, is September – November, when the danger of disturbing birds and bats is lowest.