EPSOM COMMON LOCAL NATURE RESERVE
Part Two: Ponds, Grassland and Heathland
In the next three parts, we'll look at the Nature Reserve as it is now.
The Great Pond is 6 acres in area, with no fishing permitted.
The Great Pond
Photo by Stewart Cocker
More than a million years ago this was the site where two rivers joined; nowadays, streams that originate on Epsom Common join the River Hogsmill and River Mole on their way from Ewell to the Thames at Kingston. Originally double the size, it is kept as a wildlife reserve for pond life, amphibians and the resident wildfowl such as coots, moorhen, mallard, tufted duck, great crested grebe, swans and herons. Epsom Common Association volunteers restored the pond during the 1970s.
Fishing is allowed at the nearby Stew Pond by way of tickets available from the bank side; this pond is just under an acre in size.
A much smaller pond featuring coots and geese in a 'village green' setting is at Stamford Green
, designated a Conservation Area
in 1982, abutting the eastern edge of the Common and next to the Cricketers public house.
Coots with chicks at Stamford Green Pond
Several minor ponds are located around the Common; the little-known Dixie's Pond, next to the A24 and named after a man who slept rough in the area, has recently had some clearance work to remove scrub and allow more light to reach the pond and improve its ability to support native aquatic wildlife.
There are three main areas of grassland - High/Low Meadow, Rye Meadow and Horton Heath - with many other smaller areas dotted around the Common.
Before and after cutting back the woodland on High/Low Meadow circa 2006
Photos by Stewart Cocker
In recent years, areas of young woodland, growing on the previously ploughed World War 2 fields, have been cut back with the aim of creating areas of pasture woodland, a mix of trees, scrub and open grassland.
In summer, these areas are ringed off with temporary electric fencing to allow cattle to graze. In 1997 two cows were re-introduced for grazing; the original gradual disappearance of grazing had resulted in the treeless landscape of Epsom Common being transformed into developing woodland, thus reducing biodiversity. Today, 35 cattle graze the Common from May to September.
Cows grazing in the summer
Photo by Stewart Cocker
Cattle grazing create variety in how the grassland develops. Hooves trample bracken and create areas of bare soil allowing plants to regenerate and insects to lay eggs. The taller, untrampled areas of grassland provide shelter for bird nesting, small mammals, reptiles and areas for insects to feed. In contrast, mechanical methods are not as effective.
Low Meadow in winter sun
There are three areas on the Common where uncommon species such as heather and purple moor grass survive - Horton, Bramble and Castle Heaths.
These areas are a threatened habitat and the Council regularly clears the encroaching scrub and woodland for the ultimate benefit of plants, insects, birds and small mammals. In the case of Horton Heath, grazing is also used to maintain the habitat.
The edge of the grazing area showing the permanent gate
to which is connected temporary electric fencing during grazing periods
A fourth heath, West Heath, is now covered in thick bracken and no longer features any heather.
Thanks to Stewart Cocker, Countryside Manager, Epsom & Ewell Borough Council
Text and Photos (unless credited otherwise) by Nick Winfield