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28th July 2016

Capability Brown landscapes, and what beetles say about continuity

National Trust

Veteran trees in parkland at Wimpole

Many of the UK’s richest sites for wood-decay beetles are those which were influenced by Capability Brown. In this 300th anniversary year of the landscaper’s birth, Keith Alexander, ATF trustee and ecological consultant, considers why saproxylic beetles often thrive in Brown’s landscapes.

Wood pasture and parkland was the original ‘Wildwood’ which developed following the last Ice Age. We have evidence of this from the subfossil beetle fauna which shows that 28% of beetles known from the Wildwood period are species of open grassland, while 13% are tree canopy species and 47% are saproxylic (dependent on dead and decaying wood), but a mere 2.5% are shade-demanding species. This demonstrates that trees and open grassland, grazed by large herbivores, were the predominant vegetation cover, rather than closed canopy woodland.

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