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Living Lightly column

Fallen trees are homes, not hazards

By Jonathon Howard

Isn’t it funny how once you notice something, it has flow-on effects?

I live on small farm and a dead tree had fallen across my boundary fence some months ago. While I fixed the fence to prevent my sheep escaping, I’d left the rest of the tree lying there as it was too big to cut up.

I finally got around to sawing up the fallen tree last weekend, the catalyst being that some of my stock had learned to climb along the fallen trunk and jump over the fence.

I pulled apart the first section and what I thought was a brown snake appeared out of the timber. I was scared at first. However, having a closer look, I could see it wasn’t a snake – it had ears and vestigial legs. It was a legless lizard.

This one was about 30cm long, very placid and as it was a lizard, non-poisonous. So I picked it up, became fascinated by this animal and recognised it as an “olive legless lizard’.

These little lizards feed mainly on crickets, spiders and moth larvae and supplement this with grasshoppers, caterpillars, cockroaches and other insects. Its scales shone in the morning sun as I held it in my hands.

I put the lizard back amongst the timber and turned back to the chainsaw, but somehow I lost my appetite for chopping wood. Destroying the home of this little creature did not seem right.

So I changed my approach. I began building a corridor of fallen timber – not piles of timber that sheep could climb on, but corridors thick enough to provide habitat and food for this enigmatic creature.

Indeed my entire weekend changed as a result, I began viewing all my other fallen timber as a home rather than a hazard. So now there are a number of fallen timber corridors on my farm.

I have heard of similar things happening to other farmers. They see an antechinus (marsupial mouse) climbing a tree and it leads to an area of land being fenced off from stock.

In my case on Saturday morning I set out to chop up some firewood, but by Sunday evening I had built several homes.