The Ivy League: Promoting Biodiversity

Ses Wright - Project Officer

On a cold January day Richard Chandler and I were at Moor Farm to plan a farmland bird training event for members of the Rother Valley Farmers Group.

Given the subject of our visit, I was delighted to see the variety of berries on offer in every direction. All around us were trees, bushes and plants carrying the food that helps support birds through cold and wet winter months.

In particular, I was struck by the plethora of berries covering Common Ivy growing in many field hedgerows (opposite).

Mature ivy, which has oval leaves rather than the better recognised juvenile pointed ones, flowers in late autumn when it is visited by a wide range of insects; including late-season butterflies, bees and hoverflies – it even has its own bee, the ivy bee (Colleteshederae) that feeds almost exclusively on its flowers.

Then through the winter Ivy becomes even more valuable as one of the few wild native plants to supply berries at a time when food supplies start to dwindle. Long after the other berries such as hawthorn and rowan are gone, ivy berries offer some of the last available food for hungry birds before temperatures start to increase and other food sources reappear. According to the RSPB ivy berries contain nearly as many calories as Mars Bars, gram for gram; do birds leave the best for last perhaps?

In our training programme, Richard and I stress the importance of sensitively managing hedgerows allowing this unsung ‘winter diner ‘to prosper and thrive for the long term.

Common Ivy

Ivy berries

Great tit eating winter berries