Native to southern Britain, but widely naturalised throughout the British Isles. Widely distributed across Europe.
Material from good quality British stands should be preferred with registered western European seed stands as an alternative.
A shade tolerant species which withstands wind exposure and is cold hardy but is susceptible to frost damage when young. It can be found on mineral soils of poor to medium nutrient status including calcareous soils but does not tolerate compacted, waterlogged or very dry soils. Can grow in mixture with a wide range of broadleaved species. It is a comparatively shallow rooted species and mature trees can suffer dieback or death in drought years. For such reasons, it is probably better suited to areas with more than 700 mm rainfall well distributed across the year.
Pests and pathogens
Records suggest beech is susceptible to Phytophthora root rot, with various species (P. cinnamomi, P. cambivora and P. pseudosyrinage) all causing root death and bleeding stem lesions leading to debilitation and decline. It has proved susceptible to infection by Phytophthora ramorum, although only when grown in close proximity to other infected plants which are a major source of spores. Beech is also prone to attack by various root and butt rots such as Meripilus, Ganoderma and Armillaria. Drought stress can also induce bark death as a result of strip canker fungi.
Plantation grown trees can suffer from beech bark disease, resulting from the combination of a sap-sucking scale insect (Cryptococcus fagisuga) and canker fungus (Nectria coccinea). Severe infestations can kill affected trees. It is also very vulnerable to bark stripping by grey squirrels.
Its relatively vulnerability to drought means that its use in parts of southern and eastern Britain should be limited to soils of good moisture status. Conversely, the warming climate may see greater productivity on suitable sites in northern Britain.
Beech is categorised as a Principal tree species. These are species which are currently widely used for forestry and will continue to be a dominant unless affected by a new pest or disease or adversely affected by climate change.