Both increasing and decreasing 20th century growth trends have been reported in forests throughout Europe, but only for few species and areas suitable modelling techniques
have been used to distinguish individual tree growth (operating on a local scale) from growth change due to exogenous factors (operating on a broad geographical scale). This study relates for the first time observed growth changes, in terms of basal area increment (BAI) of dominant trees of pedunculate oak, common beech and Scots pine, in north-west European temperate lowland forests (Flanders) to climate, atmospheric CO2 and tropospheric O3 concentrations, N deposition, site quality and forest structure for more than a century (the period 1901–2008), applying mixed models. Growth change during the 20th century is observed for oak (increasing growth) and beech (increasing growth until the 1960s, growth decline afterwards), but not for pine. It was possible to relate growth change of oak and
beech to climate time series and N deposition trends. Adding time series for CO2 and O3 concentration did not significantly improve model results. For oak and beech a switch from positive to negative growth response with increasing nitrogen deposition throughout time is observed. Growth increase for oak is mainly determined by the interaction between growing season temperature and soil water recharge. It is reasonable to assume that the observed
growth trend for oak will continue for as long as early season water availability is not compromised. The decreasing trend in summer relative air humidity observed since the
1960s in the study area can be a main cause of recent beech BAI decrease. A further growth decline of beech can be expected, independent of site quality.