Weatherwatch: how drought threatens Britain’s beech trees

As climate change bites, research shows it is the beech rather than oaks we should fear for

There are few more glorious sights than a beech wood in spring with bluebells in full bloom and the bright green leaves of the trees beginning to unfurl.

But the beech is not universally popular with woodland enthusiasts. Some fear it outcompetes oak, taking over mixed woodland. This is because it produces more seed and its saplings thrive in shade, while young oaks need stronger sunlight.

Some say beech trees should be culled in British woodland because they are a non-native species; however it has since become clear that they have been here since shortly after the last ice age.

As climate change bites and droughts become more frequent, research suggests it is the beech rather than oaks we should fear for in the future.

Scientists studying the tree rings of both species have compared the growth rates for each year with the droughts during the 20th century. They discovered the periods when oak trees grew faster than beech have been increasing, particularly since 1970, and were linked to the changes in temperature and rainfall.

Beech trees suffer more during droughts because they have shallower roots, while oaks reach moisture deeper in the soil and continue to grow.


Paul Brown

The GuardianTramp

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