by Jamie Walker

I know a large grazing paddock which contains three long-dead gum trees. They stand like grey skeletons – unseeing and mute. They are, of course, ignored by the cattle and, since these relics offer no shade or other practical benefit, are probably disregarded by the landowners – essentially concerned with commercial pressures, weather-related worries and care for their stock.

Yet old dead trees like these offer immense value to our ecosystems. Besides the insect life they harbour, they provide nesting and roosting opportunities in the many different sized hollows and cavities which develop in trunks and branches.

Brown Falcons and Nankeen Kestrels prospect the hollows for nest sites. They are intolerant of each other and sometimes one, then the other dominates. I suspect nesting is successful because I have so often found these species to be utilising the trees for their perch, watch and pounce hunting techniques.

Boobook Owls also use the trees’ cavities as daytime refuges and, in the glimmering dusk, I have seen a pair materialise on a branch as if from nowhere; making a roosting Brown Falcon cackle in alarm.

More obvious cavity users are the bold Galahs which are probably too large and confident to be threatened by the raptors. At whatever season I visit, they are always present and seem to be holding possession of several nest holes.

In the warmer months, Tree Martins are so numerous that, from a distance, they look like bees swarming around hives. They occupy branch hollows too small to suit the Galahs (and too deep for these intrusive cockatoos to become a nuisance) adding walls of dried mud around the entrances for additional security.

It is also dead trees like these that can attract nesting Wood Ducks; even far from water.

Trees which stand stark and isolated in open cattle country are reminders of the woodlands that once stood there and will not return while the altered land use continues. However, in their lonely state, they offer something else, by benefitting species that were perhaps not prevalent before. Any expedient urge to “tidy up” and remove them, should be resisted.

Nature has the capacity to make the best use of every opportunity – so long as that opportunity is spared by us. It seems paradoxical, but taking away old, dead trees also erases so much life and continuity.

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