The beech trees in Edinburgh have looked particularly beautiful this autumn, like these in Craiglockart Dell
Beech isn't actually native to Scotland or in fact to much of the northern part of mainland Britain. It in fact only made its way into the country just before the Channel formed between Britain and mainland Europe and is only native in the southern parts of the country. Richard Mabey, looks at the history of trees in the British landscape, with specific reference to beeches. He tries to put human history into the perspective of the much longer timescale of woodlands. He also balances the history of natural woodlands with different forms of woodland management and with his own experience as a manager and owner of a small woodland.
Ageing trees provide valuable habitat for a large number of lesser plants, invertebrates and birds that feed on the invertebrates and in fact disease organisms:
'ageing, coexistence with parasites, entrenchment, are not 'diseases'. They are ancient arrangements trees have made with their environments. More worrying would be trees which appeared entirely 'healthy', unnibbled by insects, abandoned by fungi. What would that say about the toxicity of their surroundings?'
The book explores in some detail the differences between natural woodland and managed forestry and the value of both of these. There are challenges for natural woodland to develop along natural lines, given the 'new enemies - human, animal, fungal, atmospheric - that were not there in prehistoric times'.
There are interesting discussions about the motivations behind woodland management - desire for control, aesthetics, cultural significance, ecological ideals. But maybe we can learn from natural woodland regeneration, more than we realise:
'Trees have evolved through aeons of climate change. Collectively they know how to cope with it. We don't, and need to learn from solutions that they may only be able to express in unmanaged and unmanipulated situations. Their ancient, inbuilt diversity is not available from nursery-grown stock.'
Beechcombings very much complements Landskipping by Anna Pavord which I reviewed here.