Southern England's beeches "most at risk from climate change"

Beech forests across western Europe are increasingly at risk from drought, with areas of southern England worst affected, environmental scientists from the University of Stirling have found.

Image: Leonora Enking
Image: Leonora Enking

In a new £1.1million study, part-funded by research council NERC, researchers examined tree ring data from across Western Europe to uncover how growth of beech forests is being impacted by changes in climate.

Results published in Global Change Biology show beech trees in southern England, the centre of the species' range, were least resistant to drought compared to forests located elsewhere in Europe.

Alistair Jump, Professor of Plant Ecology at the University and lead author, said: "We might expect beech forests in hotter and drier regions of Europe, such as southern France and Spain, to be most at risk. However, we have found that the south of the UK is most badly affected."

The effects of a major drought in 1967, almost half a century ago, are still apparent in trees's growth today, he said.

"As our climate continues to warm, droughts will become more frequent and more extreme. Beech forests across Europe will be hit increasingly hard, with a high risk of widespread mortality when the next big dry spell hits, particularly in southern parts of the UK. As a result, I would expect to see long-lasting changes to the makeup of our woodlands."

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