On the Beech


Beech is an important tree to us on Exmoor, although it has not always been so.  John Knight bought a large chunk of Exmoor in 1820, continuing to add to the estate for 20 years. Knight had his full time nurseryman William Fry grow a huge amount of beech seedlings for planting all the newly built hedge banks, created to provide shelter from the wind for humans and farm animals.  A great deal of Exmoor's hedges are still beech, still providing shelter today.  Hedges are laid every 25-30 years, the larger timber taken out for wood fuel and the smaller stems partly cut through and laid horizontally to thicken up the base of the hedge so keeping it stock proof.  Beech wasn't renowned as being a 'high altitude' tree before Knight successfully grew his plants at 1100 feet (335m) above sea level!

Beech likes a cool damp climate, and is tolerant of poor soil and isn't too bothered by sea-winds.  Beech hedges are still very popular, still providing a visual and wind shelter, and often specified by planners. It is one of the few plants that keeps its leaves in the winter, as long as the sides and top are trimmed  each year.  They will hold onto the dead leaves until the spring when the new opening buds push them off.

Copper Beech is a vagary of the usual green beech, with only about 1 in a 100 growing up copper.  Seeds grown from a copper beech will mostly grow as green beech! 

As firewood beech is up there amongst the best. It does need to be properly dry, to 15% moisture or dryer.  Beech is used for making furniture.  I have a great chopping board that I have been using for 30 years and still looks almost new!

While not much will grow under its canopy,  its young leaves are tasty(ish) in a salad (only when they are fresh, light green in colour and soft to touch).  Mature leaves do not taste good.  Beech seeds are a great feast for deer, badgers and all kinds of bird life in the autumn. Holes in Beech trees can play host to owl families  and a very special beech tree was indeed Piglet's home!