Having recently had to remove an Ivy laden tree in my back garden because it had become diseased I was very interested in this piece from Helen Lucas, one of our very own Redbridge Nature Conservation Team.
It is this time of year that the leaves of the trees have died back and ivy starts to be more recognisable. Ivy has always been a controversial subject, you either love it, or you hate it. Before you hack down the intruder climbing the trunk of your favourite tree, however, spare a thought for the animals that shelter within.Sorry Helen, it had to go, but there’s lots of other stuff in the garden for the birds and bees.
Due to its evergreen tendencies it serves as a refuge for both over-wintering insects and as nests of small birds (blackbirds, wrens, etc.). Flowering begins from September, a time when there are not many flowers. For this reason their flowers are visited by many species of insects in search of both pollen and its nectar. For bees ivy is very important because it is a source of late pollen, which means that bees can continue raising in the weather conditions accompanying the months of September and October (often that pollen is the only source of protein, lipids, minerals and vitamins for bee larvae to develop).
In addition, the pollen collected before winter is stored and used to start breeding next season much sooner (late winter) before the weather allows bees to go outside. Ivy nectar is vital for the winter - it has been found that in areas such as Ireland, most winter bookings of hives is nectar from ivy flowers.
In winter many birds come to eat the ivy fruits, these include the usually insectivorous Robin, Black cap and Black birds, woodpigeon and collard dove.
The Holly Blue butterfly lays its eggs on ivy, so the caterpillars can feed on the flower buds, the Brimstone is known to hibernate in it and sixteen species of moth are also known to use it as a caterpillar food plant.
The only problem occurs when the ivy becomes so successful, it chokes the tree. Understandable then that it needs to be managed, but think about a controlled culling. Don’t kill the ivy fully but consider yourself the farmer of small ecosystem and leave some for the birds and the bees!