Banstead Commons and Banstead Commons Conservators
|Where are the Downs?|
Landranger, Sheet 187. Grid ref.: (TQ255610), BCC map. A total area of 430 acres, the
Downs lie between Banstead to the south and Belmont (London Borough of
Sutton) to the north, with Freedown/Highdown prison on the eastern
boundary and housing on the site of the old Cuddington hospital to the
west. It is divided into three areas by the A217, the
Sutton/Epsom Downs railway and the B2218, Sutton Lane. The area to the west of Sutton Lane including the golf course is
classified as a S.S.S.I. recognised for its unique downland flora and
Most of the area to the west of the railway line 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.
General InterestBanstead 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 ploughed and cultivated for a short period.
living memory, this area was very more open but by the 1970s
large areas had reverted to scrub and secondary woodland. Over
the past thirty 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 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),
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.One
item of more modern historical
interest is a memorial plaque,
close to the 18th tee of the golf-course, commemorating an
American pilot killed in 1944.
of Banstead Downs |
of Banstead Downs
Downs is north-facing and has an unusual chalk
downland flora especially with regard to the scrub habitat that in places can be
gorse (Ulex europaea).
The other scrub species include Dogwood, Privet, Hawthorn, Blackthorn,
Spindle and Buckthorn, these species are at their most attractive in
the autumn when
together with wild clematis their fruit creates a colourful display.
chalk grassland flora is renowned for the number and diversity of plant
species, these in turn provide food for many animal
species especially butterflies. Common chalk
grassland species include kidney
horse-shoe vetch, ox-eye daisy, purging flax , both common and chalk milkworts, Carline Thistle
and Eyebrights plus many others. However there are some species, common on
the south-facing chalk escarpment five miles south, which are absent.
Most notable of these are various orchid species with only
Common Spotted Orchid and Early Purple Orchids
being reliably present although careful searching may find Pyramidal and Man Orchids and Common Twayblade in afew areas. In later summer
Greater Knapweed can provide a spectacular display in the more open areas
Downs does however have a number of its own rarities including two little gems that are nationally endangered, Early Gentian (Gentianella
anglica, above right) and Broad-leaved
Cudweed (Filago pyrimidata).
regularly seen on the Downs include fox, rabbit and stoat
you will have to get up early to see the latter, as you would to
see Roe deer. Smaller mammals including
and shrews are abundant although not necessarily easily seen.
birds go the Downs support a wide range of species the most colourful
of which include Greater-spotted and Green Woodpeckers, Bullfinches
and Goldfinches. Both Kestrels and Sparrowhawks have
for many years on
the Downs and in autumn 2014 Buzzards appeared to be colonising the Downs. In the winter large mixed flocks of tits are often seen in
the denser scrub.
The most notable bird species are the summer visitors. The open
supports a large population of the more common warblers, whitethroat,
lesser whitethroat, blackcap, willow and garden
to the effort of one local expert, we are lucky enough to have
detailed information of the butterfly population over the past fifteen
years. In that period at 32 species have been recorded, amongst the
most prominent being four species of blues (Common, Small, Chalkhill
and Holly) and Marbled White.
The mixed habitat
means that many other invertebrates can be found,
one of the most noticeable being glowworms.