Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Virtues of Ivy for Winter Survival

A re-post from last year - because I can.

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.

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!
Sorry Helen, it had to go, but there’s lots of other stuff in the garden for the birds and bees.


  1. Our very profuse ivy was inhabited by a blackbird's nest last year until one of the local cats discovered it. Alas, no more baby blackbirds (or their parents). Now, no more ivy, just a painted wall. The birds can take their chance with the feeders and the olive tree - which they appear to love.

  2. Some maay remember my article last May 'Being lazy brings delight', in it I admitted my garden was overgrown through lack of attention.
    But it had bought delight by the fantastic range of wildlife that'll have you took over, so many nests in the ivy, Blackbirds, Robins, Bluetits etc, instead of appreciating a trim and well kept garden,I found joy in watching the wildlife that my new garden, providing sanctuary for so many species in its wild overgrown state.
    However I did spend many hours carefully restoring it to its former glory but left the Ivy since lastas thick as possible. I'm pleased to say this year, many creatures that the wilderness had attracted are still here. Sadly, for me, I no longer see the young foxes, probably because I was wondering if I don't havedidn't feed them but one cub did come back every Morning for a few months to sit with me. I still have the hedgehog but rarely see it. I can honestly say I've never had so many birds (which I do feed) in my garden. I recommend letting the Ivy grow thick, but not too high.
    Ron King