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by Paula Doherty

If you are lucky enough to have some trees or a hedge growing in your garden, then one of the best ways you can help wildlife is to allow ivy to grow through and up the plants. You only have to allow the ivy to grow about 2 metres to provide an invaluable habitat for wildlife. However, if you have more luxuriant ivy growth, then that’s even better!

Ivy is not parasitic on trees. It has its own root system and does not take nutrients from the tree. It just uses the tree as a support. Don’t be concerned by the extra weight and the sail effect of ivy. It isn’t a problem to a healthy tree. Trees compensate for their environment, which is why a tree that grows in the middle of a windy field will take high winds without breaking where a similar sized tree grown in the middle of a woodland will suffer windblow if you remove the rest of the trees and let high winds in.


Ivy provides nectar for bees in winter when little else is around, which gives them a food source if unseasonable weather causes them to come out of hibernation too early. The flowers also provide an invaluable source of nectar for many late summer and autumn insects including bees, hoverflies and wasps. Birds eat its berries, and it makes fantastic roosts for bats and nest sites for everything from wrens to owls. It creates a habitat for hundreds of types of creepy crawlies, which then feed the bats and the birds. It really is more of a complete habitat than almost any other plant!


Red Admirals, Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshells and Brimstone butterflies can all choose ivy for their winter hibernation. Overgrown clumps of ivy also provide a home to the uncommon Holly Blue butterfly. The females have two broods in a year and the second brood is laid on the developing berries of ivy. So, by letting the ivy flower and bear fruit you could be helping this beautiful butterfly as well as those over-wintering species.

Us English folk have an alarming obsession with keeping everything ‘tidy’. This approach to gardening and grounds maintenance needs to change if we want our wildlife to thrive once more. I used to pull out every ivy plant I found threading its way up a tree. From now on I’m going to take a more relaxed approach and know that I am helping to provide a home to the variety of birds, bats and insects that I love watching in the garden.     

ivy with berries.jpg
Small Tortoiseshell.jpg
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