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Contorted Beech

Contorted Beech - photo by Loren Eldred

Oh what a tangled web we weave....

This tree is possibly the most knotted specimen in the Chilterns, having more twists and turns to it than any other.

How the tree became such a tangled shape is an issue for debate, with genetic deformity and storm damage being possible causes. However, Woodland Trust Officer Loren Eldred reckons that squirrels are the real culprits.

Squirrels can cause extensive problems for young trees, as they strip the bark to get to the sap beneath. This damage may have caused the odd growth form shown by the contorted beech.

Squirrels are problematic in the Britain for other reasons too; they are the driving factor behind the decline of the native red squirrel. This is partly through direct competion for food and resources; grey squirrels put on weight more easily before winter, for example, and can raise more than one litter of babies each year unlike the native red squirrel. In addition, grey squirrels carry a parapox virus which does not affect them but, if passed on to red squirrels, is lethal to them.

With all the trouble grey squirrels cause and the way they are generally regarded as pests in Great Britain, it is surprising that they were actually intentionally introduced to the country in the late 19th century. In Victorian times a lot of intentional introductions of this sort occurred - just because people liked a species, wanted to make a place look more like home and didn't know the trouble they could cause.



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