Inverclyde Now Logo COAST And Country — The Mighty Beech Has Its Roots In Scotland

22 August, 2020 | Coast And Country Nature, Features

IN the glen behind Wemyss Bay, where the wood gives way to the open moor, there’s a stand of hulking great beech trees, writes David Carnduff.

Their age and origins are a mystery; maybe they self-seeded or were planted by workers on the Kelly estate which was home to prominent Scots in past centuries.

But one thing is certain: their height and girth suggest they are very old. Their enormous grey-green boughs have endured the onslaught of many a winter gale but have always survived to support a canopy of green come spring.

As a kid, I explored this area with pals, but it’s only now that I look at these trees afresh through mature eyes to appreciate their stature.

They have also given me an appreciation of trees in general, and everywhere I go in and around Inverclyde I surprise myself by seeing fine specimens that have always been there but which have escaped my notice until now.

Just take a look at the fine oaks and horse chestnuts in the fields at Ardgowan estate and Finlaystone and you’ll see what I mean.

Maybe it’s knowing that trees are home to an array of wildlife and have an important role in tackling climate change that has opened my eyes, and while I don’t consider myself a ‘tree hugger’ as such, I am dismayed when I hear of centuries-old specimens being felled for new roads or housing. 

Despite it being a familiar and widespread feature of woodland across the country, the beech’s rightful place on the list of native trees in the UK has until recently been a matter of doubt, with suggestions that it is an imposter — an introduction from Europe, no less.

According to reports, this was put to the test by researchers who examined the DNA of more than 800 beech trees from 42 locations across Britain and compared them with trees from mainland Europe.

It showed that almost all the UK beeches tested are from populations native to Britain and not planted from abroad, as had been thought.

The findings led researchers to declare happily that the beech can now be considered a true native of Scotland. It can rightly take its place with the Scots pine, rowan, birch, elder and a host of others.

Meanwhile, on the exposed hillside not far from my row of beeches, I have found an ancient, half-dead specimen. This old “Braveheart” bears the scars inflicted in many a battle fought with winter storms but still has some living branches where leaves sprout defiantly every spring.

The tree stands in lonely isolation at a spot where few people go, so I have decided to show it some appreciation the next time I’m up there. And by that I mean a hug. The old timer deserves one!

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