Restoring the community of the Commons
The Sevenoaks Greensand Commons are some of the most beautiful, wild places in the south-east, but have become overgrown and undervalued...
Our aim is to reinstate them as important and valued spaces for the local community, by working with local volunteers engaged in an exciting programme of practical work, scientific research and hands-on learning.
Sevenoaks District Council, working with Kent Wildlife Trust and other partners, has received a confirmed National Lottery grant of £483,600 for the delivery stage of the Sevenoaks Greensand Commons heritage project. The project, including match funding and volunteer time, has a value of just over £685,000 and aims to restore the landscape, social and natural heritage of the Commons, improve footpaths and bridleways and clear signage.
What Are The Greensand Commons?
The Greensand Commons of Sevenoaks and Westerham share a rich history and have been a vital resource for local communities for generations. They are owned mainly by the Squerryes estate (Westerham) and Knole estate (Sevenoaks), and have been managed by local councils since 1925 and for the last 43 years by Sevenoaks District Council under a scheme of regulation. Sevenoaks Town Council owns and manages Sevenoaks Common. Sevenoaks Weald Village Commons being managed by Sevenoaks Weald Parish Council.
As well as being in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), the Commons are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and/or Local Nature Reserves (LNR) for their areas of ancient woodland and open heathland. In addition, Hosey Common’s tunnelled quarry workings are important for bat species such as Daubenton’s, Natterer’s, whiskered/Brandt’s and brown long-eared bats.
The Commons cover nearly 300 hectares of varied habitats and are connected to the Greensand Way path, with links to the National Trust properties of Chartwell, Knole and Ightham Mote.
The Project Sites include:
The Westerham cluster (159ha):
- Hosey Common
- Farley Common
- Crockhamhill Common
The Sevenoaks Cluster (22ha)
- Sevenoaks Common
- Sevenoaks Weald Common
The Seal cluster (115ha):
- Bitchet Common
- Fawke Common
- Seal Chart and Redhill Wood
The Westerham cluster, owned by the Squerryes Estate, and the Sevenoaks cluster, owned by the Knole Estate are managed by Sevenoaks District Council.
Sevenoaks Common is managed by Sevenoaks Town Council.
Sevenoaks Weald Common is managed by Sevenoaks Weald Parish Council.
Bye-laws and Scheme of Regulation
The commons are dedicated for free public access, on foot and on horseback.
Please see information relating to the 'Scheme' commons of Bitchet Common, Fawke Common, Seal Chart and Redhill Wood, Hosey Common, Farley Common and Crockhamhill Common below:
Sevenoaks Greensand Commons Development Stage
For information please find the Consultation Survey Results which contains the collected responses to the consultation survey that took place this summer as part of the Development Stage. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this process. The information gathered through this has informed the Stage 2 HLF funding application.
We have worked up a great project, secured a substantial amount of match funding, and further developed good working relationships with partners during this time. All of this has reinforced a strong application for the second stage funding application for the Delivery Stage which was submitted in February.
The Heritage Lottery Panel assessing the application meet in June and we anticipate hearing the outcome around the 8th of that month. Please look back on this page around that time for an update. Many thanks.
In the year since the Development phase of the Project started, we have carried out extensive consultation with local people and organisations; we have brought together the main partners in the projects, visited other similar sites, talked to regular users of the Commons and introduced many more to the Commons, and carried out ecological surveys of all the sites.
Please see the bottom of the page for downloads of the Ecological Scoping & Outline Nature Conservation Management Plans for the project sites.
We have come up with a number of proposed projects and activities that will actively engage people in finding out more and learning about the Commons and physical works to enhance nature conservation and access.
View the Proposed Projects and Activities.
Geology of the Greensand Commons
The lower greensand formed in very shallow seas as the land was sinking. Particles of sand washed from the land were cemented together by lime in seawater. These formed bands of hard rock, compared to soft sandstone and mud of Weald to the south, and chalk of the North Downs.
Areas remaining on the plateau were left having very stony, slightly acidic, impoverished soils. Consequently, they were easy to clear of trees and vegetation, but very hard to farm.
If you have knowledge of the local geology or would like to find out more, please get in touch.
Landscape History of the Greensand Commons
The natural history of the Commons is both the cause and effect of the past relationship between human beings and their natural environment. Impossible to plough, they were left unused until feudal land management systems provided rights for local people to graze their animals, collect firewood and mine their resources.
Some of these management systems have had huge and positive impacts upon the biodiversity of the area e.g. the local tradition of pollarding trees to head height have created ‘Veteran Trees’ – huge oak and beech trees, each providing an oasis for wildlife such as lichens and invertebrates, which in turn support wider eco-systems. The constant removal of brush for animal bedding and fuel from the Commons kept them cleared so the heathland species could thrive.
The uses local people have made of this land have been varied. Iron Age man, the Romans, Saxons and Normans, and people right through to the 20th Century have all benefited from the Commons’ resources. Two significant Iron Age Hill Forts, (Crockhamhill and Oldbury) stand on the outside edge of the project area at the west and east ends of the Commons. Local historians believe there are Roman tracks leading from Oldbury across Seal Chart to the south.
Stone has been quarried from Hosey Common since the 12th Century for buildings in Westerham and during the 1800’s miners from Bedfordshire came to mine the stone and stayed to join the local community. The caves remain and are a Kent Wildlife Trust reserve for bats. Tough building stone was taken and used in the construction of Westminster Abbey and the Tower of London. Chert, a hard layer of stone, was mined for tracks and roads and we can still see the consequences of this in the undulations of the landscape beneath the scrub and moss.
Local historians and project partners are undertaking research discovering more information on the rich historic use of the Kennedy Gardens. This area of land within Hosey Common was ‘allotted’ to the poor families of the district whose husbands had fought for Britain in the Napoleonic wars.
Please see the Sevenoaks Greensand Commons Project Historic Review below which we have produced during the Development Stage of this project.
Ecology of the Greensand Commons
The Commons contain some unusual and rare habitats for Kent, and while much of the area is dominated by woodland, there are significant sections of acid grassland and heath habitat which is of high biodiversity value.
The project sites sit at the centre of Kent’s Biodiversity Opportunity Area (BOA) for the Greensand Heaths and Commons. Kent Nature Partnership’s BOA Statement highlights the importance of their acid grassland sites and “species of acid woodland and heathland which are otherwise scarce in Kent”.
(Pictured) Areas where encroaching birch have been cleared have shown typical heathland species present, however, bracken and birch still need to be cleared.
The following species can be found at this site:
Species of Note
It is the mosaic of the Commons’ heathland habitat which provides a home to some less common plants and animals. For example, bilberry, wavy hair-grass, and ling can still be found in our Commons, but these plants, along with bird species such as nightjar, stonechat, woodlark, tree pipit and redstart have declined significantly as the more open habitats have been encroached upon. The Commons still supports a huge variety of wildlife such as green and great spotted woodpecker, buzzard, sparrowhawk and many small mammals including dormice and hedgehogs – animals which are “declining at a rapid rate” (British Hedgehog Preservation Society).
The slug Tandonia rustica is only found here, alongside nationally scarce species of snails acicula fusca and Rolph’s door snail, and Bitchet Common is the only known Kent site for the bristletail Dilta hibernica. Soft rush, greater bird’s foot trefoil lotus, red campion, hemp nettle, common fleabane, slender St. John’s wort and several fern species are found here, including lady fern.
Wooded heaths are also home to a number of important indicator species such as green tiger and heath tiger beetles; and emperor, brindled beauty and deep brown dart moths, some of which are which are in some cases listed as priorities for the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP):
We know that many of these species are still present in suitable habitats locally, but are no longer frequent on the commons.
Sites of Special Scientific Interest
Many of the sites are designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and/or Local Nature Reserves. Hosey Common also contains tunnelled quarry workings, designated a SSSI as it is used by Daubenton’s, Natterer’s, whiskered/Brantd’s and brown long-eared bats.
Project Site Maps
Locations of the Commons
The Commons are connected to the long distance Greensand Way path which runs along the ridge from Haslemere in Surrey to Hamstreet in Kent and joins the great National Trust properties of Chartwell, Knole and Ightham Mote.
Partnership working has been essential in developing the project and a wide range of partners provided input into the project to date. That support continues as we go through the ‘development stage’ of the project and work up the ‘delivery stage’ application for March 2018.
The project has, and continues to be developed and supported, with valued input from many organisations, including:
- Heritage Lottery Fund
- Kent Amphibian & Reptile Group
- Kent County Council
- Kent Downs AONB
- Knole Estate
- Natural England
- Open Spaces Society
- Seal Parish Council
- Sevenoaks District Council
- Sevenoaks Living Landscape
- Sevenoaks Society
- Sevenoaks Town Council
- The Westerham Society
- Westerham Town Council
- Westerham Town Partnership