For some reason I’ve never felt comfortable with having favourites when it comes to the natural world. It just doesn’t seem right to prefer the bullfinch to the great tit, but when it comes to trees I certainly do have preferences and my favourite for many years has been the beech.For a start its shape when mature is so perfectly ‘tree-shaped’ and similar can be said for its leaves; they’re the leaves that you first drew aged three.
We’re fortunate round New Mills to be blessed with some beauties and at this time of year they look superb, almost hurting the eyes with their colours.
In spring their leaf buds are little beauties too…thin, pointed buds which open slowly to reveal the most elegant, fresh lime green leaves imaginable, leaves that are covered with a delicate layer of hairs like those on a new baby’s arm. New leaves are translucent and thin as tissue.
The trunk is also impressive; massive and silver-grey with creases like an elephant’s leg, branching to elegantly-thinning and sinuous boughs and twigs.
As well as colour, in autumn the beech offers up its seed; beech mast as it’s called, three triangular sectioned seeds to a prickly pod bringing food for squirrels, chaffinches and our lovely winter visitor, the brambling.
Look out around Derbyshire for beech hangers on hilltops: planted stands of beech trees offering shelter and acting as landmarks (there’s a lovely one just behind Aspenshaw Hall) and lots to be seen in the White Peak; look to the right and left on the Chesterfield road.
IKEA also love beech by the way…try Googling beech hanger!