|BANSTEAD COMMONS CONSERVATORS|
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The CommonsThe four separate parts of the Commons reach from the M25 in the south to the border of the London Borough of Sutton in the north and comprise a total area of 1351 acres. Banstead and Park Downs represent typical chalk downland with a very thin topsoil over the underlying chalk whereas Banstead and Burgh Heaths consist of a thicker layer of impervious clay and flints overlying the chalk and these physical properties affect both the appearance of the commons and the flora that grows on them. These differences and their wide variation in size means that the Conservators working in conjunction with local and national organisations, have adopted different management practices for each.
Landranger, Sheet 187. Grid ref.: TQ255610)
An area of 430 acres, part of which is occupied under licence by the Banstead Downs Golf Club who carry out the maintenance works in accordance with a plan agreed between the Conservators and Natural England. All of the land used by the Golf Club and the area between the railway and Sutton Lane is an SSSI, recognised for its unique downland flora and fauna.
Banstead Downs has an illustrious history, in the 17th and 18th century it was a well-known sports venue, especially for horse riding and hunting but perhaps the most famous products of the Downs over time have been mutton and wool. Sheep were still grazed commercially up to the outbreak of the second world war and during the war much of the Downs were cultivated for a short period.
In living memory, this area was very more open but by the 1970's large areas had reverted to scrub and secondary woodland. Over the past twenty years large areas have gradually been cleared and some subsequently grazed with sheep and now it is once again possible to have spectacular views across London from certain points on the Downs. The intention is to continue to open up some remaining areas of scrub, eventually to achieve a natural mosaic structured to provide varying age and density of scrub growth with large clear areas of chalk grassland between, to suit all the local wildlife and to encourage dormant flora to flourish. Clearance work and grazing by is assisted by the Surrey Wildlife Trust (SWT), Plantlife and the Downland Countryside Management Project (DCMP).
There are four burial mounds on Banstead Downs, the Gally Hills, first thought to be Bronze Age they have now been identified as Saxon graves known as hlaews. Interestingly it is believed that they got the name, Gally Hills, from their use a sites for gallows in the 15th century, these are managed by the Conservators on behalf of English Heritage.
One item of more modern historical interest is the memorial plaque, close to the 18th tee of the golf-course, commemorating an American pilot killed in 1944.
Park Downs (OS Landranger, Sheet 187. Grid ref.: TQ265585)
At 74 acres Park Downs is the smallest of the areas we manage, it lies on a south facing slope opposite Banstead Woods and is split diagonally by Park Road. It has unique flora and fauna for a chalk downland, the entire site is classified as an S.SS.I., part of the large Chipstead valley S.S.S.I.
There are a number of ancient chalk pits on and close to Park Downs. The site was ploughed for wartime farming and subsequently left to become overgrown and almost impenetrable. This resulted in the disappearance of many characteristic plant species. Now, clearance work and grazing, once again assisted by local conservation groups, the SWT and DCMP means the Downs is reacquiring the mixed habitats so important for wildlife.
Above: One of the grazing paddocks on Park Downs taken shortly after the area was forage-harvested. In the foreground is an area made bare by rabbit activity. The woodland in the background is Banstead Woods (October 2005).
Burgh Heath (OS Landranger, Sheet 187. Grid ref.: TQ240575)
Heath is approximately 78 acres in area and is
the A217 and A240 which cross it. It is also
by high-density residential property that results in
level of pedestrian traffic on the many paths that cross the
Heath. Despite these factors, although rarely free of traffic
noise, still provides areas of woodland
The Heath is now well wooded and the woodland is quite mature there are no plans at present to take it back to its original open common aspect.
Banstead Heath (OS Landranger, Sheet 187. Grid ref.: TQ235545)The largest component of the Commons, extending to 760 acres, Banstead Heath consists of a mosaic of habitats including woodland composed of Oak and Birch, areas of mixed gorse heath that have been re-established over the past ten years and open meadow. The Heath is very popular with walkers and dog walkers and many paths crisscross the area. Horse riding is popular, with a number of stables adjoining or close by, there are more than 8 miles of bridle paths and permissive rides on the Heath for riders to explore.
The area plays host to football, rugby and cricket pitches.
One of the major problems on the Heath is invasion by Bracken, the BCC are trying to stop this by regular rolling of affected areas and this is slowly showing success enabling greater access to many areas.
There are three quadrangular earthworks on Banstead Heath, which are maintained on behalf of English Heritage.
Towards the end of 1998, the Conservators set up a Consultative Group, consisting of representatives of the various users of the Heath to ensure they are kept abreast of public opinion and aspirations for the Heath. Meetings are held biannually, because of the strict controls imposed by the original Act, all aspirations may not be achievable but at least we can try to resolve any differences between user groups.