During the summer months the south facing slopes of Oxshott Heath warm up readily in the sun and provide suitable habitat for a range of insects and reptiles, namely lizards and grass snakes. These reptiles can be found basking in most sunny areas provided there is enough dense ground cover for them to hide in.
This is an area of mature woodland, much of which is ancient, above the River Mole. Springtime provides an impressive display of wildflowers including bluebells, ransoms or ‘wild garlic’ and in the wetter areas, marsh marigolds. During the summer months Himalayan Balsam flourishes - initially a garden escape in the mid 19th century, this highly invasive plant is controlled by various management techniques to limit its distribution.
Esher Common is a Site of Special Scientific Interest comprising heathland, grassland, scrub, woodland and areas of marsh, bog, and open water. A lot of the heathland areas have been lost to scrub and secondary woodland as there has been no grazing for several years on the common. Scots pines were planted here in the 1830s and much timber has been felled since particularly in the Second World War. Esher Common is renowned for its invertebrate species - over 2000 have been found on the site, of which many are nationally scarce, including rare species of dragonfly, damselfly and butterfly.
The woodland areas support a great variety of wildlife. Deciduous trees to be found include pedunculate oak, silver birch, sweet chestnut, grey sallow, rowan and beech. Coniferous (evergreen) trees are mainly scots pine, Corsican pine, western hemlock, larch and norway spruce. The birdlife is rich and varied and many uncommon species nest here including green and greater spotted woodpeckers, goldcrests, jays, nuthatches, warblers and tits as well as birds of prey such as kestrels, sparrowhawks and tawny owls.
Prince Leopold (later King of the Belgians) acquired this common land in 1821 and developed it as a shooting estate. After his death in 1865 the Estate reverted to the Crown and it is still managed by the Crown Estate Commissioners. Public access is possible by applying for a key. There is a useful map and brochure of Prince’s Coverts here:
Ashtead Common is steeped in history. There are 2000 old oak pollards on the Common, remnants of a past management technique known as pasture woodland. The branches were cut on a rotational basis above the browse line. This dual system involves cutting the trees on a regular basis at head height to obtain a timber crop and the grazing of livestock beneath. Owned by the Corporation of London, Ashtead Common is a National Nature Reserve because of its ancient pollards and the rare wildlife associated with them. There is a useful map of Ashtead Common here:
Bought by Epsom and Ewell Borough Council in the 1930's after the demise of the Manor of Epsom. Grazed until World War 2, when the common was partly ploughed, it now has large areas of developing woodland. Its management aims to maintain large open areas to conserve the diverse flora that gave it Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) status. The two ponds date from the 12th century. There is a useful map of Epsom Common here: