by Fred Miller
This morning I decided to take a closer look at some beech woodland near me. It is a familiar part of the surroundings here in Gloucestershire, which I have taken for granted, but it is apparently threatened by climate change.
Recently published research in the journal ‘Global Change Biology’, shows that beech trees are vulnerable to drought. Lead researcher, Professor Alistair Jump of Stirling University is quoted as saying:
“As our climate continues to warm, droughts will become more frequent and more extreme. Beech forests across Europe will be hit increasingly hard, with a high risk of widespread mortality when the next big dry spell hits – particularly in southern parts of the UK.”
I wandered into Penn Wood from Selsley Common, overlooking Stroud. It was sheltered from the cool wind, and was quite dark. I saw illuminated patches where sunlight came through gaps in the canopy and small scenes were lit up as if by a spot light. One such scene comprised a hazel tree with bright hoverflies resting on its leaves. One hoverfly had been caught in a spider’s web, and was motionless. The spider came over to investigate it, but went back to its waiting station. Perhaps the fly was too big for it to tackle. A speckled wood butterfly landed on another spot-lit leaf.
The huge great trunks rise upwards to dizzying heights, grey and smooth. The bark does not have fissures like other trees do, but it does have ripples like liquid on it sometimes, formed perhaps by the stresses and strains of swaying in the wind, and it has wrinkles around the ‘eyes’ of the old side shoot scars, where former branches have died away in the shade to give us the smooth tall bole. The life story of the tree is etched in its scars and lumps, some of which form hollows, and are made into nest holes by woodpeckers, and offering great places for beetles to live.
I sat on the damp dark-brown soil and listened for a while. The wind made the trees sigh and whisper above, whilst here at ground level it was calm and still. Bird calls came through from above: the ‘kyak kyak’ sound of a nuthatch, the whimsical flutings of a robin, the squeaky yelping of jackdaws, and the rough ‘cor’ of crows from out in the wind.
Looking out horizontally between the trees, I could see glimpses of the view out over the vale below. The great flattish layers of leaves formed windows through to blue sky and the distant horizon. Perched here I felt high up, level with the middle of a giant tree not so far away rising from ground further downhill. On the crest of this slope, looking out, I felt ready to soar out like a bird on the wing, perhaps a croaking raven !
On walking back, my feet crunch on some of the trees’ seeds, known as ‘beech mast’. The path is covered in them. Inside the nut is a tasty kernel, and I feel like a mouse as I nibble one. There must be plenty of voles and mice, scurrying and hidden in the ivy on the forest floor. Peering out of their cover, they see the huge trees silhouetted overhead; the beech makes their world, anchoring and nurturing it. It clothes these steep stony slopes and holds it with its roots.
For the sake of the beloved beech and all that rely on it , let’s take climate change seriously.