One of the glories of the British countryside could be at risk
A study of tree rings has found while elsewhere in Europe it is relatively resilient to droughts, the same is not true in the UK. The iconic British beech tree could be wiped out by climate change , warns new research.
The beech is associated with femininity and is often referred to as the queen of British trees, while oak is the king.
It has flourished since the last ice age but warming temperatures means it is now facing its biggest threat.
The south of England is a stronghold of the beech. Since the last ice age it has been here that the tree, a latecomer from Europe, has found itTag Heuer Replicas strongest home.
This is the latest gloomy prediction over the threat to nature from global warming, which is thought to be behind extensive damage to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
Professor Alistair Jump, of the University of Stirling , said: “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.
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“These trees at the centre of the region where the species grows are more vulnerable to our changing climate than we previously realised and as a result, I would expect to see long-lasting changes to the makeup of our woodlands.”
The study, published in the journal Global Change Biology, examined tree ring data from across Western Europe to help uncover the extent to which the growth of beech forests is being impacted by changes in climate.
Those located at the centre of the region where the species grows, in this case southern England, were least resistant to drought compared to forests located elsewhere in Europe.
Plant ecologist Prof Jump said: “Beech trees across Europe are extremely vulnerable to the effects of drought. These long dry spells cause sudden and widespread reduced growth within the species.
“We might expect beech forests in hotter and drier regions of Europe, such as southern France and Spain, to be most at risk.
“However, we have found that the south of the UK – the very centre of the area where the species grows – is most badly affected.”
The research also revealed that the damage inflicted on beech trees during the record breaking hot summer of 1976 has impacted forests throughout the UK.
Prof Jump said: “We previously found the so called Great Drought of 1976 continues to impact forest found in South Wales.
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“Many beech trees were killed, while survivors often experience reduced growth now 40 years on. We now understand this extreme event had a big effect on tree growth right across the country.”
He added: “We know the effects of the 1976 drought have lasted to the present day and expect future changes to our forests may be sudden and put many of our most iconic beech woods at significant risk.”
Mature beech trees grow to a height of more than 130ft (40m) and develop a huge domed crown. The bark is smooth, thin and grey, often with slight horizontal etchings.
They can live for hundreds of years and provide habitats for many species such as hole nesting birds and wood boring insects. The bark is often home to a variety of fungi, mosses and lichens.
The reddish brown, torpedo shaped leaf buds form on short stalks, and have a distinctive criss-cross pattern.