Beech Woodland of the Chiltern Hills

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Princes Risborough

View from the top of Whiteleaf Cross, Chiltern Hills across the Aylesbury Vale, Buckinghamshire, England

I was fortunate to spend much of my childhood living at the foot of the Chiltern Hills in Buckinghamshire, England and a favourite destination as a child was to walk amongst the ancient Beech trees that cover the local area.

The Chiltern Hills themselves are approximately 50 miles long and have a history dating back to pre-Roman times when the hills were used as route across the south-east of England. Indeed, two ancient trackways, The Ridgeway and the Icknield Way, still pass through the Chilterns. The Icknield Way having been mentioned in texts dating back as far as the year 903, pre-dating the Roman invasion of AD 43. The whole area has been heavily protected from development in recent years and as a result is still heavily wooded to this day.

beech tree

A predominant feature of the hills in this area is the extensive European Beech (Fagus sylvatica) woodland. A hardwood harvested for the manufacture of furniture for centuries, the Beech woodland grows in a relatively thin layer of soil that sits on top of the chalk 'escarpment' that forms the hills themselves.

fallen beech

A familar sight in the woodland are Beech trees that have been blown over during storms, the shallow roots affording little anchorage against strong winds.

upturned beech tree

beech roots

The roots of an old multiple-trunk Beech growing above the underlying chalk will often migrate above the soil surface as they age. Notice how the tree was once several, the trunks having self-grafted together as they have thickened over the years.

beech roots

beech root

The roots of this tree have also grafted together over many years into an extensive 'plate' of surface roots

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