Lament for lost ivy
Enduring myths about ivy's destructive powers lead to vital habitat loss in the heart of Eynsham
The desk where I write this has a window looking out on an old ivy covered hawthorn. Presently there are three blackbirds and a song thrush clambering around it to pick off the ripest berries, blue tits and great tits dive into its thickets, looking for food, protection, or perhaps hunting for nest sites. When the ivy flowers in late autumn I open the window, its scent wafts in, and I can hear it, because it is covered with insects – bees, butterflies, and other pollinators - it is one of the few sources of pollen available so late in the season.
Given the multiple benefits, why do humans delight in chopping off this slow-growing evergreen at its base, as has just happened at Back Lane?
The myth that ivy is ‘bad’ for trees has been dispelled by numerous studies. Ivy is not parasitic, it doesn’t take nutrients from the tree or suffocate it. Its roots may compete for water, but as a ground cover ivy provides a means of retaining water.
Ivy’s bad press extends to buildings, but English Heritage and Oxford University have dispelled those myths too. In 2010, they reported that ivy protects the walls from frost, salt, and pollution and it warms buildings in winter and cools them in summer, and, of course, provides a rich habitat for nature.
For Eynsham’s Nature Recovery Project, we can get biodiversity gain in two ways: firstly, by not doing harm, secondly, by doing good. The first is difficult because of our susceptibility to Ecological Tidiness Disorder and our received mythologies. Both ways require us to become more aware and knowledgeable about the nature that surrounds us – and here we can all help each other as we exchange out experiences and so create a shared pool of knowledge.
Kevan AC Martin
(first published 7 Feb 2020 in Eynsham Online, additional photos added 30 Jan 2023)