Despite the dominance of a single tree species, the beech forest is the preferred habitat of many thousands of species of flora, fauna, and fungi. For thousands of years, animals and plants have formed a strong community with the ancient beech forests.
Beech forests are shady and seem dark in summer, and may even appear to be species-poor compared to some mixed deciduous forests. This, however, does certainly not apply to a beech forest in its natural state. Beech forests with a high proportion of old growth and standing and lying dead wood provide an ideal habitat for many species of flora and fauna.
This type of forest contains numerous natural cavities in which cavity breeders, bats and many other creatures find refuge and a place to breed.
Beech forests are estimated to harbour up to 10,000 species of animals. This degree of biodiversity only unfolds to its full potential in old-growth beech forests. The entire regeneration cycle of beech forests, i.e. the time that it takes for a beech to grow, bear fruit, age, die, and decay – lasts between 250 and 300 years, and in some cases even longer. The beech is a true survival artist. Its vigour is enormous and long lasting. Up until an old age, it can adapt with flexibility to changes in light availability in its canopy.
Due to its significance for many species, of which some are at risk of extinction, beech forests were voted ‘Biotope of the Year’ in 1995.
The beech is an important water provider for the forest. Its upper branches rise up steeply. They collect the rainwater and guide it inwards to the trunk, similar to a funnel, from where it runs quickly down the smooth bark. The beech thus not only improves its own water supply, but also that of the soil organisms in its root zone. In doing so, the beech contributes significantly to groundwater recharge through the soil.
The diverse range of sites occupied by beech forests allows for the occurrence of almost all European tree species also in beech forests. The total number of plant species found in the various site-specific and geographical beech forest types is remarkably high. A wealth of specific sites such as springs, streams, small water bodies, mires, rocks, hollows, or boulder fields further enrich the structural diversity of the beech forest.