Epsom Common in Surrey is a very large site of public open space covering an area of four hundred and thirty six acres, which makes Epsom Common Nature Reserve the largest in Surrey. The site is managed and owned by Epsom and Ewell Borough Council and The Epsom Common Association, formed by a group of local people in 1974 who cared passionately about protecting the common and its welfare, work in partnership with Epsom and Ewell Council to keep the common in tip top condition.
Epsom Common can be located in the southern half of the Borough and has many access points for pedestrians, Bracken Path, Bramble Walk, Castle Road, Churchside, Wells Road, Wheelers Lane, Woodcock Corner and via a link from Ashtead Common. If visiting by car there is the Stew Pond Car Park off Christ Church Road and this is the main access point, please be aware that this car park is locked at sunset.
Having been declared a nature reserve in 2001 it is also an (SSSI) Site of Special Scientific Interest due to its importance as a breeding site and habitat for a wide range of various birds and the many rare insects that can be found on the common, along with being given both the Green Flag and Green Heritage Awards. On top of all that, Epsom Common is also a site of archaeological interest too.
Being crossed by a few roads and a railway line actually splits Epsom Common into a number of separate units, each having different things of interest to explore due to the many distinctive habitats and a wide range of wildlife, along with some lovely, very old, veteran oak trees. As well as being a fantastic nature reserve, the common is also an excellent recreational resource, not only for the local people but for its many visitors too.
Activities That Can Be Carried Out on Epsom Common
There are a host of activities that can be carried out Epsom Common so it is sure to offer most people at least something they can enjoy, such as:
Walking, Dog Walking, Running, Cycling, Horse Riding, Nature Watching, Bird Watching, Fishing (at the Stew Pond only, ticket needed) plenty of Wildlife and Nature Photography opportunities and Football (at Webb’s Folly only). Guided walks, health walks, bat walks and volunteering (volunteers are always needed) are also available should that sort of thing interest you.
Remember to take your litter home or dispose of it in a bin and to consider the other users. Dogs should be kept under control, otherwise they can cause a problem to wildlife, horse riders and cyclists, and remember to always clean up after them, disposing of the waste in the dog bins or regular litter bins provided.
Cyclists and horse riders should also consider the other users. A leaflet ‘Common Sense Horse Riding and Cycling on Epsom Common’ can be requested from Epsom and Ewell Borough Councils customer services department.
There is also an all weather horse ride which is a great bonus, I wish it had been available when I use to ride on Epsom Common back in the late 60s and early 70s. There were often times when the ground was either too hard or too boggy to canter on, always a great disappointment and of course it saves the footpaths from becoming churned up, making it difficult for walkers to then use.
Lymes Disease Warning
Whilst visiting Epsom Common there is a slight chance that you may come into contact with ticks, particularly during the spring and summer months. It is therefore important that you check yourself, children and pets after any visit for signs of ticks. Unfortunately ticks carry a very nasty disease – Lymes Disease, which needs medical treatment and it is not something you would wish to get, believe me.
You can find information on the NHS direct website about the disease (which I recommend you read) along with how to remove ticks.
Help yourself to avoid getting a tick when visiting the common by keeping to designated tracks as long grass can harbour them and keep covered up as best you can, long trousers that are narrow at the ankles and long socks help – a pain I know, but I would certainly rather be safe than sorry.
Don’t let this put you off visiting though, it is highly unlikely you will get a tick, especially if sensible precautions are followed.
Brief History of Epsom Common
Back in Saxon times when people lived a feudal and agricultural way of life Epsom Common was owned by the Abbey of Chertsey and therefore the Lord of the Manor was the Abbot of Chertsey.
The Lord of the Manor had exclusive rights over the land which included hunting, fishing and collecting timber, whilst the local people were given commoners rights to graze their animals and collect fire wood for their own use.
The monks of that time constructed a huge fish pond and left us the wonderful legacy that is now The Great Pond, although today fishing is not permitted as the area is protected for wildlife.
This Medieval time in history seems to have been fairly quiet until the dissolution of the monasteries under the reign of Henry VIII in the sixteenth century, which saw the common pass into new ownership.
The early part of the seventeenth century saw a drought hit the area in 1618 when a boy tending his cattle found a spring from which he tried to get his cattle to drink, the cattle refused due to the water having a salty taste down to the magnesium sulphate it contained.
A well was then dug, with the people drinking the water finding it had an extremely fast effect on relieving them of their constipation (common in those days due to diet) and led to Epsom Common becoming the original source of the still well known Epsom salts, which is actually magnesium sulphate, no wonder the cattle didn’t want to drink the water.
The result was that Epsom prospered, becoming known as one of the best Spa Towns in the country during a one hundred year period covering the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. With so many people visiting Epsom to take the waters hotels and bars were built and the Lord of the Manor enclosed an area around the well and cancelled commoners rights.
Many famous people visited, including John Constable, Charles II and Samuel Pepys and to entertain visiting people horse racing started. This led to horse racing at Epsom going from strength to strength with the first Derby being held in 1780. The Derby went on to become world famous and by the end of the eighteenth century, with horse racing so popular by now, led to Epsom Downs being lost from the common, changing the boundaries forever.
Unfortunately, the 1740s saw the well run dry and the bottling of water along with the making of the salts ended, resulting in the well being boarded up. By the 1780s all the surrounding buildings had been demolished and by 1812 the area had become Old Well Farm, until the 1930s when the Wells Estate was built around the old well, where a wishing well can be seen today.
Having been used for hundreds of years by commoners to graze their cattle, this largely treeless area started to undergo a huge change. As people became better off due to the industrial revolution, along with the arrival of the railways, many local and visiting people started to use the common for recreational purposes where they were able to benefit from some free fresh air and exercise or just enjoy a picnic.
The industrial revolution also caused more roads to be built and populations to grow, who in turn needed housing and during the nineteenth century Epsom Common was threatened by a proposed housing development. With the common now very popular for recreational purposes the people were outraged, a public enquiry was held and the common saved.
In 1935 Epsom Common was purchased from Lady Henrietta Strange for the sum of £4,000 by the Council and during the Second World War one hundred and forty four acres of the common were ploughed up in order to grow crops for the war effort but unfortunately the results were not very successful.
With the grazing of animals ending in the 1930s, the common started to undergo a gradual change, becoming a much more wooded landscape of in particular oak and birch trees along with scrub and was basically left to its own devices.
In recent years the importance of all our open spaces has been realised, for not only the benefit they give to people but to nature and wildlife too and they are now managed in a completely different way. As just one example, the council have reintroduced the grazing of cattle on Epsom Common to help control scrub and in order to restore a more diverse range of habitats, just as it was originally done all those hundreds of years ago, it is a great sight to see.
The Trees of Epsom Common
There are over fifty different species of trees and shrubs that can be found on Epsom Common and the woodlands, some of which are ancient, dominate a large area of the common. There are two main types of woodland found, namely a young woodland with birch and pedunculate oak trees and a mature woodland with pedunculate oak, including some fine, pollarded veteran oak trees as well as birch, coppiced hazel and holly.
Other trees to look out for are willows, young ash trees, although a few older ash trees can also be found, poplar, black poplar hybrid, field maple, aspen, silver birch and downy birch, snowberry, large leaved lime, weeping willow, beech, cherry and apple, along with the non native and invasive species of cherry laurel, sycamore and Turkey oak which are of no benefit to nature and the latter two are most definitely harmful to our own trees. Holly, hawthorn and blackthorn shrubs often form an understorey.
In an excellent initiative the local college, Merrist Wood, has trained some of their tree surgery students on Epsom Common, with one of their lessons being in the dismantling of Turkey oaks, the resulting timber left in wood piles as habitat for various species of wildlife.
Managing wood waste after tree surgery is very important and by leaving wood piles as habitat for wildlife and utilising it to make benches and signposts ensures it does not actually go to waste. Some of the timber is also used to make charcoal which is then sold, whilst other timber is sold as firewood, this all helps reduce the overall cost of tree surgery work.
All the native trees on the common provide an important habitat and source of food for the various mammals, birds and insects who inhabit or visit the common.
Epsom Common’s Grassland, Heathland and Plants
A large part of Epsom Common is made up of a mosaic of secondary woodland, scrub, grassland and heathland and good management, including the grazing of cattle is now restoring these areas to their former glory, creating a pasture woodland with many lost plants and wildlife returning.
In fact there are about four hundred various different species of ferns and plants. Look out for saw-wort, common spotted and southern marsh orchids, violets, St John’s Wort, tormentil, common centaury, corky-fruited water dropwort, cocksfoot, adders tongue fern, marsh foxtail, horse mint, lords and ladies, greater periwinkle, goat’s rue, purple iris, heather and purple moor grass.
The grassland and scrub also supports wintering finch and thrush and breeding birds such as the lesser whitethroat and grasshopper warbler.
There are over one hundred and thirty species of fungi to be spotted on the common along with plenty of lichen too.
The Great Pond and Stew Pond
Although there are a number of ponds to be found on the common along with a stream, the most extensive and valuable in terms of wildlife and plants are the Stew Pond and The Great Pond, the latter of which covers an area of six acres and has now been restored.
Both have plenty of aquatic flora such as potamogeton (pondweed), duckweeds, great reedmace, bogbean, trifid bur-marigold, narrow leaved water plantain, rushes and water lilies.
The Great Pond also supports many birds and wildfowl such as the little grebe, great crested grebe, kingfisher, swan, greylag goose, heron mallard, moorhen, coot, teal, shoveler and tufted duck, along with amphibians such as frogs.
Epsom Common Bird
Epsom Common is a haven for bird spotters and is home to over one hundred different species, many of whom breed on the common (around sixty species). Many are regular visitors, some are migrant visitors, whilst others are occasional or even rare visitors.
Just some examples of the birds you may see are: green, lesser spotted and great spotted woodpecker, woodcock, barn owl, tawny owl, fieldfare, goldfinch, redwing, wren, yellow hammer, blackcap, nuthatch, goldcrest, willow warbler, chiffchaff, great tit, blue tit, dunnock, skylark, meadow pipit, reed warbler, reed bunting, kestrel and cuckoo.
The Mammals of Epsom Common
There are many mammals to be spotted on Epsom Common, for example the fox, grey squirrel, roe deer, mole, rabbit, hedgehog, harvest mouse, dormouse, shrew, bank vole, water vole and although the badger has been spotted, there do not appear to be any setts in evidence.
Mink have also been spotted which could prove detrimental to water voles so they will be monitored and possibly removed if possible.
Bats to watch or listen for are common pipistrelle, soprano pipistrelle, common noctule, Brandt’s bat, and the brown eared bat.
Other Types of Wildlife in Epsom Common
There are many other creatures that inhabit the common, some of which are nationally rare or under threat. Look out for:
Grasshoppers and crickets such as the long winged conehead, short winged conehead and Roesel’s bush cricket.
Brown lacewing, box bug and various species of spider
Grass snake and adder (do be very careful and do not attempt to pick up adders – they are poisonous and most snake bites are given through handling).
The horseshoe ladybird, Britain’s rarest and smallest ladybird has been discovered on the common.
True flies (diptera)
Beetles – Epsom Common is one of the most important sites for invertebrates in Surrey. On the common is the coleoptera species of beetle which includes the nationally under threat rhizophagus oblongicollis, along with the nationally rare bibloporus minutus. Just some of the others beetles are: sallow jewel, oak jewel, black headed cardinal, longhorn, stag and water beetle.
Butterfly – about thirty different species of butterfly are supported by the common including: silver washed fritillary, white admiral, purple hairstreak, purple emperor and small heath.
I do hope you enjoy your visit to Epsom Common.
Article was written by Karen Arnold
Article Source: http://www.graftingardeners.co.uk/epsom-common-nature-reserve/