One of our best known trees, in a prominent position towards the top of Bank Woods is a beech. She is known as Lovers’ Beech because of the many lovers’ initials carved into her limbs.
A mature beech tree can grow to more than 40 m tall. They create a dense leafy canopy which is bright green in spring, and turns golden-brown in autumn. Beech is a long-lived tree, and we have many which may be well over 100 years old. The beech is recognised as the ‘Queen’ or ‘Mother’ of the woodland, and has traditionally been linked to fertility
Beech trees retain their dead leaves throughout winter, an attribute called ‘marcescence’. Beech nuts with prickly seed cases appear in autumn and are triangular in cross-section. The nuts, or ‘mast,’ are eaten by birds and many mammals including squirrels, mice and voles. The caterpillars of many moths can be found on the foliage.
The beech trees in our woodland provide an important habitat for many moths and butterflies. The shade created by the dense canopy encourages growth of rare shade-loving plant species, in particular English Bluebells, and other Ancient Woodland Indicator Species. Hole-nesting birds and wood-boring insects make their homes in the gnarled trunks and branches, and a variety of fungi, mosses and lichens can be found on the bark.
Beech timber was traditionally used to smoke herring and can be used for furniture making, as well as fuel. Forked beech twigs are traditionally used for divining.