Thursday, October 06, 2011

Beech woods

click photo to enlarge
Beech is a woodland tree. It is less frequently found as a single specimen in a hedgerow or growing alone somewhere. However, in some places it can be seen as a landmark tree signalling a crossroads or a boundary. On the Lincolnshire Wolds it was used to line some of the old drove roads, and in Yorkshire it is often planted around hill farms. When beech grows in a close-canopy wood it is tall, up to 140 feet, with trunks that are relatively free from branches. Where single specimen trees do grow, however, they are shorter with very large crowns - the so-called "deer park beech."

The examples in today's photograph near Stackhouse, North Yorkshire, are part of a small wooded area on steeply sloping pasture with outcropping limestone. The trees' canopy has kept the ground damp allowing moss to grow over the grey stone, something that doesn't happen higher up the slope where the only shade comes from bracken and the occasional rowan. This woodland must have been planted here to make use of an otherwise quite unproductive area. Beech can manage quite well on thin, rocky soil, as this photograph that I took in Lancashire shows. The hamlet of Stackhouse would find these trees a good source of fuel, but also useful for furniture, tool handles and other strong wooden articles. In medieval times oak and beech were the main trees involved in the system known as pannage. This was the right to pasture mainly pigs in woodland so that they could eat the acorns and beech mast. In a thinly wooded area such as this there would be slim pickings for any foraging swine, but in the bigger, denser woods of, say, the Weald, it would be very worthwhile.

I have a fondness for beech trees, and as well as the Lancashire example noted above I've photographed this clump and this beech wood edge in autumn.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 24mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/125
ISO: 250
Exposure Compensation:  -1.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On