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alderThe common or black alder (Alnus glutinosa) is native to Britain and found across Europe to Siberia, usually near water. Like the birch, of which family it is a member, it is a pioneer tree (early coloniser of vacant landscapes), but rarely lives beyond 150 years.

Alder has a dark fissured bark, often two or three main trunks, and sticky twigs – hence its glutinosa name. The tree produces seeds in distinctive small woody cones that often remain on the tree through winter.

The deep roots of the alder help maintain the soil of river banks and also fix nitrogen through a symbiotic relationship with a bacterium Frankia alni. The trees support a wide variety of moss and lichen, as well as providing food for over 100 insect species. The wood has been used for underwater foundations, for example in Venice, and smoking food. Alder has many traditional medicinal applications, such in remedies for rheumatism, inflammation and dermatitis.

Alder is common around Haslemere’s streams, ponds and bogs, for example by the stream on the corner of Weydown Road – see photo.


ashAsh (Fraxinus excelsior) is one of the most common of our native trees, found throughout the woodlands and gardens of Haslemere. Tall and graceful, ash can grow to 35 metres or more. We should make the most of them now, because they are under serious threat.

Ash dieback, a disease caused by the fungus Chalara fraxinea, has devastated trees across Europe. Young specimens tend to die more quickly than older ones, although they too succumb eventually. The disease is spread by the wind and little can be done to stop it. If Britain’s experience turns out similar to Denmark, we could lose 60% to 90% of our 80 million ash trees.

Ash will be a great loss, not only to our visual landscape, but also to our local biodiversity.

Ash has a shorter leaf period than some other woodland trees, and also has a light canopy so allows wildflowers such dog violet, wild garlic and dog’s mercury to thrive. The trees also provide habitats and food for a range of birds and insects, such as bullfinches and high brown fritillary butterflies.

The ash in the photo is on the hillside south of Haslemere station.

Bastard service
bastard service 12.8.15The bastard service tree (Sorbus thuringiaca) is a hybrid of rowan and whitebeam. The hybridisation occurs naturally but rarely. The leaves are dark glossy green on top and paler beneath, like the Whitebeam, and shaped like a Whitebeam with a few separate leaflets on the stalk like a Rowan. The trees have creamy white flowers in the Spring and clusters of red berries in the autumn.

There is a natural specimen on Black Down. Unfortunately, it was blown down some years ago. Because of its rarity, the National Trust cut the trunk and righted the stump to see if it would regrow. It remains alive, but with just a number of small shoots. Because it is a fairly small and attractive tree, it is often cloned for town and garden planting. There is a young specimen next to the Weydown Road car park (pictured).


beechThe beech (Fagus sylvatica) is probably the signature tree of Haslemere and the surrounding area. It dominates many areas of woodland, ancient and new, thriving on the thin soils of the local greensand. It lines many country lanes and marks out old estate boundaries, often with tangles of roots like Celtic knots exposed down the sides of holloways. There are many fine specimens in gardens throughout the town, and lovely beech hangars on the side of Black Down and elsewhere.

But perhaps the champion local beech is a tree almost hidden in the undergrowth on the southern tip of Blackdown, pictured. Found just off the path that leads up from Fernden Lane near Blackdown House (Ordnance Survey grid reference SU917289), the tree has a girth of six metres and is among the largest beeches in the country. It is thought to be about 350 years old and has been absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere since before the Industrial Revolution. It has lost more than one limb to storms and gales, but remains an enormous presence on the side of the ridge.


birchTwo types of birch are native to the UK – the silver birch (Betula pendula) and the downy birch (Betula pubescens). The silver prefers dry sandy soils and heathlands, so is common around Haslemere. The downy prefers wetter soils, but the two often hybridise.

Birches have a light open canopy, so allow for grasses, mosses, wood anemone and other plants to thrive under them, and a number of fungi are often found in their vicinity, including fly agaric and chanterelle. The trees also support more than 300 insect species, and siskins, greenfinches and redpolls eat their seeds.

In Celtic mythology, the birch symbolised renewal and purification, as well as love and fertility. The wood is tough and hard wearing, and was used to make bobbins and spools for the textile industry. The bark can be used for tanning leather.

There are many lovely birches in and around Haslemere. The birch provided the brush for local the besom or broom makers who lived in the Devil’s Punch Bowl and elsewhere, and once supplied royalty. You will pass many fine groves and individual trees along the Serpent Trail from Marley Common towards Liphook, including the unusual S-shaped specimen pictured.


blackthornThe blaze of white blossom of the blackthorn is one of the loveliest heralds of Spring. Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) is native to Britain as well as much of Europe, western Asia and northwest Africa.

Its dark thorny branches make an effective barrier to cattle and other farm animals, consequently it it has been used for hedging for centuries. Blackthorn can grow to five metres tall and lives around 100 years. The purple-blue waxy skinned fruits, or sloes, ripen in autumn, and are best harvested for sloe gin or preserves after the first frosts as they are less tart and astringent then.

Blackthorn leaves are favoured by the caterpillars of a number of moths, such as the emperor moth, willow beauty, white-pinion spotted and common emerald. The wood burns slowly with a good heat and little smoke. It polishes up well and has traditionally been used for tool handles and walking sticks.


cherrySpring is the time of the cherry blossom. There are in fact two native species: Prunus avium and Prunus padus, known (slightly confusingly) as wild cherry and bird cherry respectively. Bird cherry prefers uplands, often limestone areas, and is the most common cherry in Scotland. In the south, you are more likely to see wild cherry in fields and hedges. Ornamental cherries found in gardens are often Japanese, Korean or other Asian species.

Wild cherry can grow up to 30 metres and live for 60 years. Its white cup-shaped flowers form in clusters (bird cherry flowers grow on spikes) and their profusion is one of Spring’s finest sights. An early source of nectar and pollen for bees and other insects, the flowers  ventually mature into cherries eaten by many birds and mammals, including badgers and dormice. It has also long been used for flavouring cherry brandy.

Wild cherry can grow up to 100 foot, and live around 60 years. The hard strong, reddish- brown and honey-coloured wood was traditionally used for making cask hoops and is popular for furniture musical instruments. The cherry has little mythology attached to it compared with other native trees, perhaps because it is relatively short-lived and does not grow in great numbers – which may also explain why in Highland folklore it was auspicious to encounter one.

The wild cherry pictured is in a hedge at Swan Barn Farm just coming into bloom

Douglas fir

Douglas firIn Polecat Copse between the Hindhead Road and Polecat Hill stands a Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) 53 metres tall, making it not only the tallest tree in Haslemere, but also in the whole of Surrey and one of the tallest in Southern England. The tree’s grandeur is easy to miss because it is in among the other trees in the copse, which include several other Douglas firs and Norway spruce (Picea abies) that are all over 40 metres. To fully appreciate the trees you need to get a perspective

on them from the playing field in Polecat Copse, as well as view them close up to see their girth and stare up into their soaring heights.

There are many other Douglas firs in and around Haslemere, including a tall specimen in Courts Hill Road on the south ridge above the station that seems rather lonely.


elderJune is the month of the elder tree (Sambucus nigra). Its sprays of white flowers light up the woods and hedgerows, elderflower cordial quenches the thirst on a warm June day, and nothing is better than a glass of elderflower champagne to toast the solstice and celebrate the onset of summer.

The elder features prominently in Celtic and other European folklore. A tree spirit, known as HyldeMoer (Elder Mother) in Scandinavia, was said to live in the elder tree, while if you sleep under one in midsummer it is said that you may see fairies. Elder flowers and berries have many culinary uses besides cordial and champagne, including jams, sauces and delicate elderflower fritters.

The elder has a long history as a source of herbal remedies. Elderberries are rich in vitamin C, and can be taken in a tincture or syrup. A cold infusion of the flowers soothes inflammation, and the flowers have been traditionally used in a salve for burns, chapped hands and chilblains.

Goat willow

Goat willow IMG_2404 (2)The goat willow (Salix caprea) is usually the first of our native willows to produce catkins. These start out silky silver –  hence the alternative name of pussy willow – and turn bright yellow in the case of male trees, and silvery green on females trees. The female catkins explode into white fluffy seeds in May.

Goat willows prefer damper ground and will grow in woodland, hedges or scrub and are common in and around Haslemere. The catkins are an early source of nectar and pollen for bees and other insects, while birds monitor the trees for the caterpillars of several moth species that inhabit them, such as the sallow kitten and sallow clearwing (sallow willow is an another name for the  tree).

Goat willow differs from other willows in that its twigs are brittle, so of no use for weaving, but shares with other members of the family the fact that its bark contains salicin from which aspirin is derived.

Goat willows, and willows in general, are rich in mythology. The Celts associated willows with enchantment and mysteries and priests and poets would meditate under them. Druids used wands cut from goat willow as protective charms. Willow was worn as a sign of grief and contineus to be associated with sadness and mourning.


hazelHazel catkins are one of the earliest signs that Spring is on its way. The dangling yellow catkins are the male flowers of the hazel (Corylus avellana), one of Britain’s most familiar native trees. The hazel grows in woodlands among oak, ash and birch, and is common in scrub and hedgerows. When left alone, trees can reach 12 metres in height and live for 80 years. Traditionally, hazel was often coppiced, which can extend its life to several hundred years. Hazel is particularly flexible and can be twisted or knotted. Its many uses include thatching spars, net stakes, water divining sticks, hurdles and furniture.

Hazel is monoecious, meaning that both male and female flowers are found on the same tree – the female flowers are tiny with red styles. Pollination is by wind to other trees. The pollen provides food for early bees, and the leaves are eaten by caterpillars of many moths, including the large emerald and nut-tree tussock. Autumn’s nuts feed woodpeckers, nuthatches, tits, wood pigeons, jays and many small mammals such as dormice.

In medieval times, the hazel was a symbol of fertility, and it was long thought to hold magical powers – hazel rods protected against evil spirits, as well as being used for water-divining, and the nuts were carried as charms. In Ireland, the hazel was known as the tree of knowledge.


hornbeam 15.4.14Hornbeam (Carpinius betula) is a member of the birch family and can grow to over 30 metres and live for more than 300 years. It is a native tree, common in Southeast England, particularly in oak, bramble and bracken type woodlands. Haslemere has many lovely hornbeams, including the ‘fastigiated’ specimen in the Town Meadow, next to the children’s playground – see photo.

Fastigiation, meaning upright, is a genetic variation that occurs naturally but rarely in many trees including hornbeam, oak, beech, tulip and pear. Because they are aesthetically appealing and take up less room, fastigiated specimens are cloned by tree nurseries and widely planted in parks and, increasingly, in urban streets.

The name hornbeam means hard tree, and the wood was traditionally used for things like ox yokes, tool handles and cogs for watermills. Its density means it makes excellent firewood and charcoal. Finches and tits visit hornbeams in the autumn to eat the seeds, along with many small mammals, and a number of moths feed on the leaves. Its thin bark makes it a target for grey squirrels, who can cause considerable damage, especially to young trees.


larch 27.19.15Although not native to Britain, the common larch (Larix decidua) has been grown extensively throughout the country since the 18th Century for its hard, rot resistant timber. There are a number of small plantations around Haslemere, as well as many specimens in gardens and occasional individuals in the woodlands.

The larch is one of the few deciduous conifers, its needles turning yellow and falling around this time of the year. Spire shaped, the trees often have bent trunks and angular branches that make them look like a whirling dancers – such as the two in gardens on Lower Street opposite the Town Meadow (one is pictured). Their seed is a favourite food of the common crossbill whose bill is ideal for extracting them from their cones.





limesIf you wander around Haslemere in July you may well catch the fragrance of lime blossom from the many lime trees in and around the town. Nowhere will you experience it more sweetly than on Lion Green, which should really be called Lime Green because of the lovely avenue of limes along its edge.

The common lime (Tilia x europaea) is a deciduous broadleaf, a hybrid of the native small- leaved and large-leaved limes. The trees are hermaphrodite, having both the male and female reproductive parts in one yellowish-white flower. Bees love their nectar, and limes are very attractive to aphids with their associated predators, including hoverflies, ladybirds and many species

of birds.

Lime, or linden, flowers have long been used in herbal medicine for colds, coughs, fevers, infections, inflammation, high blood pressure and headaches, as well as a diuretic, antispasmodic and sedative. Lime flower tea is said to be calming, and because of their reputation for easing anxiety, limes were often planted around mental institutions.

The fine grain and material integrity of lime wood has made it a favourite for sculpting, marionettes and musical instruments. In France and Switzerland limes are a symbol of liberty.

Monterey cypress

Monterey cypress 12.1.16The Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) is salt tolerant so often found in coastal areas around Southern England as well as inland, where it often grows much bigger than in its windswept native Californian setting. There are a number of specimens in Haslemere, for example, a row against the fence at the old Co-op in Weyhill and a striking tree in the Tanners’ Lane carpark – shown in the photo. Given its landmark status, Waverley has braced two weakening stems from the central stem to prevent its collapse.

The Monterey cypress’ scale-like leaves have a lemony scent when rubbed and it produces round cones about the size of an acorn. One of the tree’s more dubious claims to fame is that it is one half, together with the Nootka cypress (Chamaecyparis nootkatnesis), of the hybridisation that produced the Leyland cypress (x Cypressocyparis leylandii) often used for dense hedges.


oak aTucked away behind some holly bushes on the northern side of the footpath which crosses Roundhurst Common, lives a remarkable oak tree (Quercus robur). This tree has stood here for hundreds of years, it has seen the comings and goings of generations of local people and the changing of the landscape in which it lives. It has withstood high winds and storms and has in its lifetime provided much useful material for the people who made their living from the common.

It is a pollard tree, its upper branches have been cut back many times by man to leave a tall stump or bolling. The regrowth from the bolling would have been harvested on a regular cycle to provide all manner of timber. In its lifetime it may have provided timber for the construction of any number of buildings and boats, fire wood to warm many hearths, it may even have provided charcoal to feed the iron industry and bark rich in the chemicals vital to the local tannery.

Pollarding ceased to be a common practice during the twentieth centaury and now its branches have grown out to produce a large and spreading crown.  The reason the branches of a pollard were cut up in the air rather than down near the ground (as in a coppiced tree) was to keep the valuable re-growth safe from harm from grazing animals. Although the common is now woodland in the past parts of it were open grassland, and were kept open by the action of the grazing of the livestock belonging to local householders.

Formulae published by the Forestry Commission allow us to make an estimate of the age of trees  based on their diameter. From this it can be seen that our tree is probably about 400 years old. At the very least it would have been a strong sapling when Guy Fawkes made his name in 1605. It would have been a sizeable tree by the time Oliver Cromwell stayed with his supporters at nearby Black Down House during the civil war and it may even have been approaching maturi- ty by the time of the Great Fire of London.

Our old trees provide a hugely important link with our past. They are a living breathing record of past climates and weather patterns. When one learns how to read the signs they give us they can tell us much about the history of our landscapes. They are hugely important for a vast range of our native wildlife and can provide homes to a wealth of species. The National Trust manages this part of Roundhurst common to ensure that this tree is given the best chance of living well in to the future, with luck many more generations will get the chance to appreciate it.

This description of the old oak is by David Elliott, Head Ranger, Black Down, National Trust. and first appeared in the National Trust Black Down and Hindhead Supporters newsletter, May 2007.

Oak (2)

oak 2A champion oak (Quercus robur) stands on the banks of the Wey River where it runs below Marley Common. The tree is thought to be around 400 years old now – a previous owner of the property on which is grows is reported to have made a bore into the tree that put its age at 375 years. The tree’s girth is 5.3 metres.

The tree is free standing, tall and majestic, with a magnificent crown. It has lost a few limbs over the years and has a crack down the central trunk, but otherwise appears in very good health.

The oak is in the back garden of a private house, so is not open to public view. However, the owner Jennifer Radford kindly allowed us to measure and photograph it in September 2013.


rowanSlender and elegant, the rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) graces the heathland and woods around Haslemere. Said to be the tree from which the first woman was made in Norse mythology and to afford protection against witchcraft and enchantment in British folklore, rowan was traditionally used for the carving of runes and for making spinning wheels.

The rowan is a small tree that is tolerant of shade and so is often found in the company of other woodland trees. It can live at higher altitudes than any other native species and is found throughout Scotland’s ancient Caledonian Forest.

The rowan produces large heads of creamy white flowers in the late Spring, that by autumn become bright red berries that are rich in Vitamin C and are a favourite of chaffinches, siskins and other birds. They also make a slightly sharp jelly that is good on toast or with game.

Scots pine
Scots pineScots pines (Pinus sylvestrus) are a familiar sight on the hills and heathland around Haslemere.

Scots pines are the most widely distributed conifer in the world, and one of only three conifers native to the UK. Mature Scots pines can grow 35-45 metres tall and typically live around 300 years, with the oldest recorded specimens around 700 years. Notable old specimens are known as ‘grannies’ in Scotland. Scots pine is one of the strongest softwoods and widely used in construction and joinery.

The resin can be tapped to make turpentine. Although often tall with a single straight trunk and high branches, Scots pines can be spreading trees with several trunks or other forms. There are many fine specimens on Hindhead Common, Marley Common and elsewhere in the area. The one we picture is known among local children as ‘the climbing tree’, and can be found on the main path on the eastern side of Black Down.


spruceThe traditional Christmas tree is the Norway spruce (Picea abies). Native to Central and Eastern Europe where it grows up to 55 m (180 ft) tall, the tree’s neat conical shape and dense foliage make it ideal for seasonal decoration – such as the onedisplayed each Christmas in Haslemere High Street. The giant specimen that appears in Trafalgar Square is donated by Oslo each year in thanks for Britain’s support for Norway during the Second World War. Norway spruce is fast growing when young and widely used for its timber, pulp for paper and as soundboards for stringed instruments. A clone in Sweden is 9,550 years old and said to be the world’s oldest living individual tree.

More recently, the Nordman or Caucasian fir (Abies nordmanniana) has become popular as a Christmas tree, partly for its attractive foliage and because it holds its needles – in the wild the needles can persist for up to 25 years. Nordman firs are the tallest trees in Europe, growing to 70 m (230 ft).

Swamp cypress

swamp cypressThe swamp cypress (Taxodium distichum) may be water lover and a native of the swamps of the south eastern United States, but the August in 2015 rain proved to much for one of the specimens in Haslemere’s Town Meadow. A pair of the trees grew on the southern edge of the meadow, near Pyle Well. Sadly, one split in two after the heavy rains and had to be removed. The other remains, looking slightly bereft.

Swamp cypress is an attractive tree with soft, pale green foliage and red-brown bark.

Unusually for a conifer, it is deciduous (like larch), the leaves turning a lovely gold  rown in the autumn before falling. It can grow to 45 metres and produces the largest seed of any conifer. The oldest known specimen, in North Carolina, is over 1,620 years old.



wellingtoniaThe Wellingtonia or giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) is a native of California. As the name suggests, these trees can grow very big. General Sherman, a specimen in the Sequoia National Park, is said to be the world’s largest living tree by volume and nearly 3,000 years old. They have reddish spongy bark that protects against fires, and cypress-like foliage and small cones. Given their size, their wood is surprisingly soft and useless as timber. They were introduced to Britain in the 1850s and have been widely planted in parks and gardens. There are many in and around Haslemere

already taller than our native trees – they can grow over 300 feet. There are two notable specimens in Polecat Copse off Polecat Lane – one is pictured.




whitebeam 1Walk in the heathland around Haslemere in the early summer and your eye will likely be caught by a small tree waving white in the wind. It is a whitebeam (Sorbus aria), a broadleaf deciduous tree native to southern England, the undersides of whose leaves are remarkably pale and finely haired.

Whitebeams tend to grow on their own, sometimes in the company of rowans, to which they  are related. They are relatively rare in the wild, but are now commonly grown in parks and gardens. They are mostly compact and domed, although mature trees can grow to a height of 15 metres.

Whitebeams are hermaphrodite, with each flower containing both male and female reproductive parts. Clusters of the white flowers appear in May and are pollinated by insects. They develop into bright red berries, which ripen in late summer, while the leaves turn a rich russet colour before falling in autumn. The berries are known as chess apples in north-west England and are edible when nearly rotten – if birds haven’t got them first.

There is little folklore associated with whitebeams, possibly because of their rarity.

Whitebeam wood is fine-grained, hard and white and was traditionally used for furniture, beams and cogs and wheels in machinery.


Most of the Britain’s oldest yew trees (Taxus baccata) are located in churchyards or other sacred sites. Two of Haslemere’s most venerable yews are to be found in the more humble circumstances of a sweet chestnut coppiced wood behind the Hammer Hill estate. Yet both are remarkable – tall spreading stately specimens; one probably 500 years old or more, and the other likely over 300 years.

The older tree is a male with a girth of 4.22 metres (13` 10“). Using a formula devised by the Forestry Commission at Alice Holt, the girth indicates the tree is up to 593 years old. According to an alternative classification by the Ancient Yew Group, the tree is likely to be around at least 500 years old, which puts it in the ‘veteran’ category. The tree can be found close to junction of a footpath that leads from behind the estate south to the Serpent Trail footpath (grid reference SU873813188).

The younger tree is a female with a girth of 3.56 metres (11` 8“). The Alice Holt formula would put it at around 420 years old, whereas the Ancient Yew Group classification suggests it is nearer 300 years old, making it a ‘notable’ specimen. It can be found next to the path immediately behind the estate (SU8737931757).

Old yews outside churchyards are under great threat, says the Ancient Yew Group. Fortunately, both the local trees are intact and in good health, and not hollowed out or damaged like many other veteran specimens. These two are well worth a visit and our veneration. The older tree probably pre-dates Henry VIII, the younger was probably a sapling when Hammer Hill was still a settlement noted for its iron works.

A number of other ancient, veteran and notable yews can be found in the surrounding area, many in churchyards, in Bramshott, Cowdray Park, Dunsfold, Hambledon, Lurgashall, Northchapel, Waverley Abbey and Woolbeding, with a particularly remarkable and atmsopheric grove at Kingley Vale near Chichester, whose trees are some of the oldest living things in Britain.

Continue to our Town tree walk.

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