EPSOM COMMON LOCAL NATURE RESERVE
Part One: Background and Access
At 436 acres, Epsom Common is Surrey's largest Local Nature Reserve. It is a nearly a mile south west of Epsom, adjoins Ashtead Common
and is across the road from Horton Country Park
, forming a vast amount of green space. It is worth a visit at any time of the year, as the photographs in this article will hopefully show.
Epsom Common in Autumn Light
The known history of the Common stretches back to the Saxon era. At that time, it covered a far greater area as it included what is now known as Epsom Downs. Epsom was under the control of a 'Lord Of The Manor' who only used the land for timber, hunting and fishing, as the land was deemed unfit for cultivation due to it being situated on a 200 feet thick bed of clay - this resulted in water logging during winter and dried-out conditions in the summer. The Commoners were allowed to collect firewood and graze their animals, mainly cattle and pigs. Whilst under the ownership of the Abbey of Chertsey, monks in the 12th century created the Great Pond, stocking it with fish to provide food for the winter.
During 1618, a spring was discovered on the Common whose water contained magnesium sulphate - an aid for constipation - and so, for the next 100 years, Epsom was regarded as a Spa Town
. Only a wishing well, located in the middle of the Wells housing estate, remains on the site of the spring and is a reminder of Epsom's most famous product, 'Epsom Salts'. (For a cautionary tale, see 'Fatal Reaction - Misadventure with Epsom Salts')
At the end of the eighteenth century, the area around Epsom Downs became dedicated to horse racing and by the middle of the next century was no longer regarded as part of the Common.
The next significant event was the construction of the railway line from Epsom to Leatherhead in 1859, a section a mile and a quarter in length crossing the middle of the Common, with the highest point in the cutting by Wells Road.
A Waterloo-bound train heads over the summit of the line on the Common
By now Tithe maps had been introduced, followed by the first Ordnance Survey maps. These show little population in the area, but included a windmill situated near the present day corner post office in Spa Drive. An expansion in housing was planned during the 19th century, but was largely resisted. Roads were poor, and barely tracks in places. The original Christ Church
was built in 1845 to serve the secluded community.
Christ Church, on the northern edge of the Common
By the 1900s the Council became concerned that the Common had no proper drainage or land management and tried to introduce a regulatory scheme; agricultural activity such as pig keeping was still taking place but in unhygienic conditions.
Epsom Council purchased the Common for £4000 in 1935 from the then Lady of the Manor, Henrietta Langley Strange
for 'free air and exercise' - this was an era before the concept of nature conservation. Despite its unsuitability for cultivation, large areas were ploughed up for crops to be grown during World War 2.
Top: Wheat/Barley being grown in 1955 near The Wells
Photo by A Davenport, courtesy of N Davenport;
Bottom: The same view now
When the war ended, cultivation ceased, as did the grazing. Consequently the Common reverted to scrub and young woodland in marked contrast to the more open heathland found before World War 2. The developing woodland was thus 'even aged', i.e. consisted of one or two generations (as opposed to three or more) and as such led to a loss of diversity, especially amongst flowering plants and wildlife that depended on a more open habitat. Today the Common is managed in a way that encourages a diverse mosaic of habitats with open grassy meadows, heath, woodland glades and ponds as well as woodland.
Top: Christ Church in 1960, photographer unknown;
Bottom: The same view now, photo by Stewart Cocker
Along with neighbouring Ashtead Common, a major part was designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) during the 1950s. Most of the remainder was subsequently designated a Site of Nature Conservation Importance (SNCI), with particular reference to the site's range of rare insects associated with dead wood and for its importance as a breeding bird habitat. In 2001 the Common was further designated a Local Nature Reserve.
Nature conservation and public access on Epsom Common Local Nature Reserve are managed via a Ten Year Management Plan
, which commenced during 2005. The plan has been published in agreement with Natural England
, who guides the Council's management of the site for nature conservation.
Maintaining the Common
The area is managed by Epsom and Ewell Borough Council
, with significant assistance from volunteers. In addition, the Epsom Common Association
, founded in 1974, works in partnership with the Council to manage the Common and maintains its own volunteer group known as the ECOVOLS
. The Association currently has approximately 800 members. Amongst its achievements is the restoration of the Great Pond and in collaboration with the Council, the creation of the all weather circular horse ride as well as surveys of species and recordings by local naturalist groups. Talks and walks are regularly given.
Great Pond before and after restoration in 1979
Click images to enlarge, use the 'back' button to return.
Photos courtesy of Stewart Cocker
The embankment created by volunteers at the Great Pond
The ECOVOLS regularly carry out a range of conservation tasks in association with the Council, Natural England
and the Lower Mole Countryside Management Project
, who recently celebrated their 30th anniversary and carry out the heavier tasks with their volunteers trained to use excavators and power tools.
Volunteers from the Lower Mole Project clearing the area near the railway cutting
on the recently named 'Evelyn Way' foot and cycle path.
One of the ECOVOLS/Lower Mole joint initiatives is a scheme to produce charcoal by collecting the surplus wood created from clearance work combating ongoing scrub encroachment; a kiln is located in the north of the Common with the resulting charcoal available for barbeques or as bags of Charcoal Fines, a mulch spread on the ground to improve fertility as well as helping to deter slugs.
Should you be interested in voluntary work, you can find out more information from the above links and from the Council's Volunteers Page
Paths and Tracks
These are for pedestrians, horse riders and cyclists only. There is a hard-surfaced circular track just over 2½ miles (4km) long suitable for all weathers which follows the perimeter, with accompanying benches.
The west side shares a path with Ashtead Common
Most of this is suitable for wheelchair access but could be potentially difficult around the Christ Church area in the wet. Within this path are a variety of smaller grass paths, including Summer Horse Rides, although these are closed during winter to avoid them being cut up by hooves.
Summer Rides cross the Common but are unsuitable in the wet
Map and Walking Route
Below is an Interactive Map, click on the thumbnail image to open.
The Main Route is shown by a thick red line, with thin red lines showing connecting routes. On the left is a list of all routes; click on one of these and the relevant route will be pointed out accompanied by a description box.
To manoeuvre around the map, hold down the left mouse button, drag the screen into position and let go. To zoom in and out, either use the + and - buttons or click & drag the vertical slide bar top left; better still, if your mouse has a scroll wheel, use that. You can toggle between 'map' and 'satellite' versions by clicking on the appropriate box in the top right corner.
Clicking and dragging the little orange man onto roads (which will subsequently be highlighted in blue where the function is available) will give you the opportunity to use 'Streetview'; you may need to use the rotating navigational ring in the top left corner to point yourself in the right direction. Unfortunately this doesn't cover the Common.
Cycling through Bramble Heath
By car, the main access point is the Stew Pond Car Park off Christ Church Road (B280). This is locked at sunset. By foot, access points can be found off the A24 at Wells Road and Castle Road, plus Wheelers Lane, Churchside, Bramble Walk and Bracken Path in the Stamford Green area off the B280. It adjoins Horton Country Park by crossing the B280 beyond Horton Lane. Ashtead Common is adjoined in the north at Woodcock Corner and in the south near Ashtead Common Pond.
The path from Stew Pond Car Park in winter
The nearest railway station is a mile (1.6km) away in Epsom. From there you could walk to the nearest access point off Stamford Green, or by bus to Christ Church using the E9/E10 from outside the station.
Bus 408 also runs from same stop and will take you to the Wells Entrance by the Common (ask for 'Wells Estate Shops') but is hourly and like the E9/E10, doesn't run on Sundays.
Buses 479 and 489 will take you to opposite Wells Road (½ mile, 0.8 km away from the Wells Entrance) - these do run on Sunday but only every 2 hours.
An alternative is to take bus 293 to Epsom Hospital then walk approximately 1 mile/1.6km along Dorking Road and Castle Road to reach the Wells Entrance - however much of this will be through quiet roads and green space.
A more pleasant approach is to combine a walk with neighbouring Ashtead Common as Ashtead rail station is adjacent - this adds a mile each way, but is through continuous green space. You could also combine it with the walks suggested in my Coal Tax Post article
A word of warning - there is a risk of coming into contact with ticks on Epsom Common, especially in spring and summer. They can carry Lymes disease for which medical treatment will be required - see the relevant NHS Page
For more information see 'Epsom Common' published by the Epsom Common Association.
Thanks to Stewart Cocker, Countryside Manager, Epsom & Ewell Borough Council
Text and Photos (unless credited otherwise) by Nick Winfield