The Small–leaved Lime – habitat and historic ecology.

It is important to note prior to proceeding that the choice of these trees was relatively random. The facts were that after deciding to write a tree valuation blog / guide (specifically linked to the tree year 2011 project) I found myself ensconced due to snowfall and flu in the village of Stoke Gabriel, Devon at my Mother in Laws house. This comfortable abode has access by a plethora of designated footpaths into the surrounding countryside, the easiest and closest of which leads through fields to edge of the Dart Estuary. The first field you enter on this path contains the first truly discernable ‘rural’ setting trees, which were the trees chosen for this project. The selection of these trees, which I knew of previously, has a strong bearing on their ‘holistic’ value which I will explore further at a later date.

The Small-leaved Lime, (Tilia cordata) also known as Linden, Pry (e) or Bast Tree.

There is a possibility, although at present I am convinced enough that these particular trees are T. cordata that the trees are indeed the much more common Tilia x europaea – awaiting better inspection when the leaves arrive. Further details on this are below.

The underlying geology/soils and geographical placement of these trees is actually a paradox against what is generally known about this species and its distribution. Small-leaved lime is a species which has diminished greatly from the English landscape, where 4000BC it was a dominate species across most of the Southern and Eastern counties of England.

The remaining specimens are usually remnants of ancient woodland in selective areas and habitats much further east of this location. It is not a hedgerow tree and those existing in hedgerows are thought to be the ghosts of what was once native woodland.

The location of the chosen trees is clearly on the site of what was once throughout much of the last 10,000 years woodland.

The ancient realm of the Small-leaved lime commences several miles to the East, (after the Exe Estuary), where a traditionally less harsh climate and better soils allowed for its distribution until minor natural climate fluctuations coupled with the habits of stronger competing trees, principally the Beech Fagus sylvatica and to a lesser extend the Common Oak Quercus robur.

The lime prefers deep fertile soil, and the immediate geology and soils do allow for this. A particular phenomena of this underlying geology are the pockets of deeper soil made by swallowholes , a long time ago. These are filled with the overlying soil thus not allowing for accurate visual recording. However the chosen trees do appear to be actually atop the remnant hedgerow itself (the full line of the original hedgerow is clearly visible on the 1st Edition OS map, circa 1890s’) and were certainly considered important aesthetically or perhaps for timber value to allow for the retention of the trees and short span of hedge.

These limes, (as mentioned previously), need further investigation with regards the indentification I have awarded them. Principally due to the question – Why are these trees here? Certainly my initial inspection allows for a comfortable identification as cordata, yet with the factors raised re the distribution of this species and current decline of this species in the landscape, together with the fact that Devon hedgerows similar to their Cornish counterparts are raised up prior to planting or vegetative spread and as such the trees were more likely to have been planted specifically in the hedgerow. I have dismissed the notion that the trees are one and the same, remnants of epicormic growth of a previous specimen long since disappeared; due to the fact that little epicormic growth exists on these trees, despite obvious lack of management; the distance between the basal areas is too long; the root systems appear so obviously separate. But one factor can be assumed that the parentage of these trees was the same – either by way of a nearby seed source, layering from a now extinct tree or by nursery stock. One factor that I discovered when working with trees in Cornish hedgerows was that the soil within the structure of a newly built hedge and the subsequent management allowed for trees to easily seed within the soil of a hedge – which gave greater nursing attributes and more fertile soil for the trees to establish.

My instinct at present is that whilst the trees are indeed remnants of ancient woodland trees, (whilst sparse there are other T. Cordata specimens in the immediate locality), the specimens chosen have been manipulated in some way when younger either pre formative pruning on site or as young trees in a nursery. This could have been for amenity or timber purposes, (as will be explained in a later post – this species had a specialist niche market in previous times), but with the hedge’s protection have simply been allowed to grow beyond their intended purpose leaving a strong presence in the landscape.


Forestry Commission Booklet no.20 ‘Broadleaves’ by Herbert L.Edlin

Cassell’s TREES of Britain and Northern Europe by David More & John White

The History of the Countryside by Oliver Rackham


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