Page last updated at 09:23 GMT, Saturday, 14 February 2009

Dead wood bounty on bird reserve

Snow in Cairngorms
Heavy snow blankets trees and the ground in Abernethy

Two weeks of heavy snow has created more dead wood on an RSPB reserve than during any other single natural event in the past two decades.

The wild bird conservation body said the felled trees and broken branches at Abernethy Forest in the Highlands would be left to decay.

The RSPB said rotting matter would provide habitat and feeding grounds for invertebrates, birds and mammals.

Large numbers of Scots pine have lost branches, or been toppled over.

The branches snap with extreme force
Desmond Dugan
RSPB officer
Abernethy in the Cairngorms was among the areas in Scotland that had the greatest accumulations of snow as a cold snap gripped the country in recent days.

Desmond Dugan, one of the site managers, said: "We have had thousands of branches and limbs - some of them heavy branches - ripped off by the weight of snow.

"When heavy snowfall is coupled with the extreme frost - and the temperature dropped to minus 19 over a couple of days - all the resin and sap in the pines gets frozen up, they become very brittle, lose their elasticity and the branches snap with extreme force."

Mr Dugan said there was a sound resembling gunfire as limbs and branches snapped.

He added: "All the dead wood serves as the building blocks of the higher ecosystem, because the birds feed on the invertebrates that live in the decaying wood, and then mammals feed on the birds and so on.

"When these trees are torn apart like this, it creates a ragged tear in the wood. This allows pathogens and bacteria to colonise and promotes decay of the fallen wood."

Sixteen species of birds use dead trees at Abernethy, the RSPB said.

These include woodpeckers, swifts, crested tits, redstarts and flycatchers.

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