How to Identify Trees

Everybody loves trees, but one of the most common questions I get asked as a countryside warden is how to learn to identify them. This can seem especially difficult in winter, when there are no leaves on the branches.

This beech is of the most common trees in the hedgerows on Exmoor, and I’ve chosen it for this first post on tree ID as it is particularly easy to identify in the winter. In all but the most windswept locations, it tends to keep its leaves throughout the whole of winter, giving a beautiful splash of autumn colour to the landscape

It’s possible to confuse beech with hornbeam, which looks quite similar (until you get your eye in that is… I’ll come back to the differences in a later post!). At this time of year the easiest way to tell is to look at the developing leaf buds, as in the picture above. Beech has long “pointed cigar” shaped buds, while hornbeam has a squatter, more oval shape.

Beech trees have been native to the UK since the ice age. However, they are only considered truly native in the South of England, whereas they are sometimes removed to make way for other species in conservation woodland management in the North.

Their dense canopy shades out a lot of light so beech copses tend not to have many wildflowers unless the canopy is opened up by coppicing. They are an important food source for many moths, and the nuts are eaten by a range of small mammals.

Beech trees coppice extremely well, and can live for up to a thousand years when coppiced or layed as a hedge. Large mature beeches are one of my favourite trees, and we have some spectacular veteran examples at Wimbleball lake.

By Chris Eyles, Senior Warden for Exmoor

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