Reduced rainfall poses potential threat to Burnham Beeches

Beech species including oak could disappear from the ancient woodland at Burnham Beeches as a result of climate change, according to University of Oxford experts.

Academics from the university's Environmental Change Institute have warned of the impacts of climate change on the site.

The centre has published a report in collaboration with the City of London Corporation, which owns and manages Burnham Beeches, examining how the woodland may change under climate change predictions using computer modelling.

The research showed that although the ancient woodland's famous beech trees may still be able to grow in future, they could become increasingly threatened by reduced rainfall levels.

The research also showed that the 3.2 degsC increase in global mean temperature projected for 2080 would mean a number of beech woodland species, such as sycamore and English oak, could lose more than 90 per cent of suitable growing space in the region.

This could lead to Burnham Beeches becoming dominated by smaller, scrubby species of tree that are better suited to the changed climate.

Ground vegetation at the site is also projected to change from heathland to more grass. This may have detrimental consequences for insects and animals that depend on these habitats.

City of London Corporation director of open spaces Sue Ireland said: "We have had the opportunity to use the best available information to predict in detail what the future might have in store for Burnham Beeches. In this time of change we need to be prepared, as custodians of such precious sites, to do what we can to protect them for wildlife and for the public for many years to come."

The results were presented to a workshop comprising representatives from the City of London Corporation as well as managers of nature reserves local to Burnham Beeches.

Environmental Change Institute senior research fellow Pam Berry said: "It was very exciting being able to talk about the results with people working on the nature reserves where the consequences of climate change will have a direct impact."

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