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I have been interested in nature for most of my life but since I retired I spend as much time as I can exploring the nature reserves and wildlife hotspots of my adopted home, Dorset in southern England. Whilst out I record what I see and take snaps where I can (I am no photographer!) and that forms the basis of my Nature of Dorset website. When I find something new I like to research it and write about it in my nature notes, it is how I learn and hopefully you might find my notes helpful as well!

This website is for the people of Dorset interested in wildlife and for people from elsewhere interested in the wildlife of Dorset!

05 February, 2011

Beech (Fagus sylvatica)

What a wonderfully elegant tree a fully grown Beech is. Tall and dominating and lacking the gnarled twists and turns of the Oak. Apparently in the Cotswolds it is known as the 'Lady of the Woods'.

It took me while to find a Beech to photograph and, in the end, I had to make a short journey to Badbury Rings. I found it surprising to learn that the Beech is not commonly indigenous to Dorset and most of our specimens have been planted for specific purposes, often for protection as a wind break or for forestry production.

Some Beech trees have been pollarded and not allowed to develop this beautiful uplifting natural shape; instead becoming more spreading from the central crown point.

Up close and personal, the Beech has smooth bark with a silver-grey or even metallic appearance. It has slight horizontal lines. The bark is thin and the wood inside is hard and strong and of a bright buff colouring with brown flecks which make it a popular choice for furniture and is also a favourite with wood turners to make bowls and other items.

Profile and bark are all very well for identifying trees in winter but often the best way is to look on the ground under the tree for evidence. Dead leaves are often a give away but so too are the remains of the nuts. Beech 'mast' is unmistakable.

The woodland floor with dead leaves and mast is an ideal place to look for all sorts of wildlife from Squirrels and other mammals foraging, to birds looking under them for small insect and, of course, the insects, grubs and plants (mainly fungi) that feed on the litter itself.

Nothing like a bit of detective work!