Commons Update February 2022

Commons Update - Winter 2022

Despite the government easing most restrictions and the return to “normal”, the Commons remain as busy at weekends as they were during the lockdowns.  The glorious weather is certainly helping and it's great to see so many people out enjoying the Commons. 

One of the biggest challenges for the team here has always been ensuring that everyone visiting the Commons – walkers, families, golfers, horse-riders, cyclists and dog-walkers - can enjoy their visit without coming into conflict with anyone else.  With the Commons so busy, we are finding that there is the occasional incident between visitors – usually resolved quickly but which can sometimes leave a sour taste for those involved and we’d really like to avoid that. 

Despite having 52 Byelaws, there are few “rules” about using the Commons and we simply ask all our visitors to be aware of each other, show each other courtesy and keep your charges under control.   

Sadly the first piece of news we have to report is the death of a visiting swan following a dog attack on 23 January at Queensmere.  The female (pen) was not our resident swan but had arrived from Richmond Park.  The resident pair forced her out on to the bank and she was unfortunately attacked by a dog.  Although serious, the injury was not life-threatening in and of itself, but the trauma of the incident took its toll and the swan passed away at the weekend.

Please do be aware of the wildlife around the Commons and particularly the ponds where the wildfowl are likely to be out of the water.  If you are not sure how your dog will react, do please put them on a lead.

Walking on the Golf Course - The golf course is a lovely place to walk, particularly as the rest of the Common is still so wet and muddy at the moment.  If you do walk on the course, other than our usual plea to respect the work of the Green Keepers and not to walk on the greens, do please be aware of the golfers and the direction the golf balls are coming from.  Although the golfers may not play if anyone is on the fairway, the Byelaws also require that no-one may hold up play so do try to move across the fairway as quickly as possible.

New faces at the Ranger’s Office

We’d like to introduce you to two new members of staff who have joined the Commons’ team in January. 

Maggie May – Fundraising Manager

As a charity, we are very fortunate to be funded by the Levy on properties within ¾ of a mile of the Commons, or the old Parish of Putney, but running an open space like the Commons, particularly with the additional footfall we’ve experienced over the last two years, does require additional funds to deal with bigger infrastructure projects.  The Board of Trustees therefore agreed to appoint a Fundraising Manager and Maggie May joined the team at the Ranger’s Office at the beginning of the year. 

Maggie commented “I am over the moon to have joined the Wimbledon and Putney Commons team, having previously worked in the fundraising teams at The Royal Parks, Friends of the Earth and Campaign to Protect Rural England. As Fundraising Manager for Wimbledon and Putney Commons, I’ll be working with those who love the Commons, such as yourselves, to raise funds to enhance and maintain this amazing place which I know is cherished by so many.

The great thing about working here is that every day brings a new adventure and with 1,140 beautiful acres of green space, including habitats such as woodland, heathland, bogs and ponds, there is so much to discover”. 

It costs around £2million to care for the Commons, to keep them thriving for both people and nature.  Whether you’re a nature lover, serious about sports or because the Commons have a special place in your heart, there’s something here that you can help support to make the Commons even better. If you’d like to have a chat about fundraising, or making a donation, then please do pop by the Rangers Office and have a chat with Maggie, or e-mail her at

In the meantime, if you’d like to support the Commons, you can make a donation online: Thank you!

Alison Carlin – Office Assistant

Alison has joined us on a part time basis and from Tuesday to Thursday hers will be the cheery voice who takes your call or greets you at the Ranger’s Office.  Alison lives locally and has walked the Commons for years, particularly Putney Lower Common and up onto Putney Heath.

Although she has only been with us two weeks, Alison is already getting us organised and has made inroads into dealing with the mountain of lost property that has accumulated in the Office during the pandemic.  Cards and car keys are securely disposed of, but phones and glasses have been sent to charities so that they can be made use of.  Reading glasses have been sent to the Lions Recycle for Sight charity and will go on to help children and adults in developing countries to enjoy a better quality of life with many experiencing corrected vision for the first time, enabling them to read, attend school, gain employment and take care of their families. Some specs are traded, and any donations received are used in Sight Projects across the world.

If you find any lost property on the Commons or if you lose anything do drop into the Ranger’s Office and hopefully we can reunite visitors with their lost property.

Wildlife Garden – Update

Over two years ago we launched a fundraising campaign to create a wildlife garden outside the Ranger’s Office.  So many of you contributed very generously to the campaign and, as the work has still not started, we thought an update on where we are and why there’s a delay is more than overdue.

Work was scheduled to start in February 2020 but the incredibly wet weather we experienced over the preceding months meant that the ground was just too wet to start clearing.  And we all know what happened next – the pandemic hit and everything ground to a halt.  With the team here focusing on keeping the Commons rubbish free and safe for visitors, we had no choice but to put this project on the back burner. 

However, we did take the opportunity to re-think the design and our volunteer landscape architect has gone away to draw up some fresh plans for us.  As soon as these are agreed, work will begin! Thank you all for your patience.

Update on Putney Lower Common Footbridge

We are sorry that the footbridge over Beverley Brook is still closed. Structural engineers have visited and carried out survey work, establishing that the bridge needs major repairs. We will be launching a fundraising appeal later this month and hope that the community and those that love the Common can help ‘bring back the bridge’. Whether you have a fundraising idea or would like to support this project, then please do get in touch – we would love to hear from you! Contact Maggie at

Out on the Commons

Despite the cold weather and muddy conditions over the past few months, work on the Commons has continued at full pace.

Heathland Management

Over the past two months, the ongoing heathland management programme has included scrub bashing and coppicing of semi-mature birch trees on two areas of heathland, heather cutting and the creation of bare ground on three sites around the edge of the golf course.

Scrub bashing and the coppicing of invasive trees

Heathland at Tibbet's MeadowBetween May and December 2021, our scrub-basher volunteers undertook the task of removing scrub and coppicing invasive trees in two areas: the heathland adjacent to Tibbet’s Meadow on Putney Heath and heathland close to the northern section of Green Ride on Wimbledon Common.  The follow up work of removing cut materials off site and coppicing larger birch trees was carried out by the Commons’ Maintenance Team.

With work completed (for now) on these two areas of heathland, during the first week of January 2022 volunteers were back in action again and for the next few months they will continue to ‘fight the good fight’ to preserve the Commons heathland around various sections of ground on Putney Heath.

Bare Ground Creation and Heathland Restoration

These two pieces of work, although separate, do complement each other.  Bare ground, or “scrapes” are created and spread with heather seed cut from established and aging areas of heathland. 

So how does this work?  Firstly, the bare ground is created by scraping away the top layer of turf and soil, leaving bare ground. This was done in November 2021 by the Commons’ Maintenance Team on three areas around the edge of the golf course close to Caesar’s Well, the upper section of Gravelly Ride and the Birches Fairway.  Then we need to procure the heather seeds.

The life cycle of heather follows four stages of growth:

• Pioneer (0-5 years)

• Building (5-15 years)

• Mature (15-25 years)

• Degenerate (25-40 years)

Much of the heather found on the Commons has now reached the mature to degenerate stages of growth and, in some areas, would benefit from being cut back to encourage new growth.  During November 2021, the Commons’ Maintenance Team mowed two areas of older heathland on Putney Heath.  All the cut heather was removed in order to prevent a litter mat of cut materials developing and suppressing seedling development in the future.

This cut heather, with seeds, was then spread over the bare ground scrapes and left to rot down into the ground, allowing the seeds to germinate and hopefully establish a new area of heather growth.  This can take up to about 4 years so in the meantime the mulch provides a valuable breeding and hunting ground for a wide range of invertebrate and vertebrate species.  To help protect these areas from trampling, temporary fencing will be erected over the next few weeks.

We were very fortunate to be able to borrow the specialist piece of equipment to carry out this work from the Royal Wimbledon Golf Club and our thanks go out to them.

Woodland Management

Over the past few months, woodland management on the Commons has included holly thinning, ride management, hazel coppicing and the planting of 1,250 small trees.

Holly Thinning

This year’s woodland management programme began with the arrival of a small team of foresters who have been tasked with thinning out the holly in six hectares of the woodland adjacent to the upper section of Robin Hood Ride.

This work is an important part of the Commons’ involvement with a Higher Tier Countryside Stewardship (CS) agreement with the Forestry Commission and Natural England, who fund the work.

If left unchecked, holly will quickly become the dominant woodland species.  This results in woodland that is heavily shaded which in turn severely restricts the development of a well-structured woodland.  In a natural, or near natural state, woodland would ideally contain a full range and balance of structure and this would include:

· A field layer (ferns and grasses)

· A shrub layer (low growing scrub species, up to 5m high)

· An understorey of low growing trees

· The canopy layer

Although it looks quite harsh now, removing most of the holly and opening up the understorey to light we hope that a natural process of woodland regeneration can be allowed to take place.  


    Holly clearance - before and after


Hazel Coppicing

Coppicing is a form of woodland management that has been carried out for thousands of years. In practice, it involves cutting a tree down to the stump where it will then produce new growth. In a well-managed woodland, coppice provides a dense shrub layer at various stages of growth which provides an important habitat for a wide range of wildlife and helps to increase invertebrate mass and diversity. Far from being destructive, coppicing rejuvenates the tree which results in some coppice stumps or ‘stools’ continuing to grow for hundreds of years.

Managed on a rotational basis, hazel coppicing forms another important part of the Commons’ existing Hier Tier CS agreement with the Forestry Commission and Natural England. During November and early December 2021, hazel was coppiced by volunteers on a site towards the bottom section of Lower Gravelly Ride. All cut materials were used to create a dead hedge which will provide cover for wildlife and hopefully create a temporary barrier to help prevent disturbance during the important early growing stage.

Ride Management

Traditionally, a path or track becomes a “ride” at the point when it is wide enough for there to be a gap in the canopy above the ride which allows sunlight to reach the ground. On the Commons there are numerous paths and rides and since the beginning of January we have been working hard to improve two of them. These rides are Upper Gravelly Ride and Lower Gravelly Ride and both sections are located in the woodland immediately below the Sandy Ring.

With a greater number of species inhabiting the first 10 metres of any woodland or ride edge than inhabit the remainder of the woodland, sensitive management of these areas is an important way of improving the biodiversity of the woodland. As a result, small to medium sized trees along the edge of these two rides are being coppiced to encourage more sunlight and consequently warmth to reach the woodland floor.

This work will also help to improve the herb layer along the edge of the rides which will promote an improved environment for a wide range of animals and pollinators.

Tree planting

Towards the end of November 2021, 1,250 small trees were planted in five woodland locations around the Commons. Species included rowan, hawthorn, spindle, crab apple, wild cherry and hazel.

While all of the trees were planted in open areas of the woodland with very little existing understorey, the vast majority of the trees that were planted were hazel and these were planted to help extend and safeguard existing areas of hazel coppice.

See you in the Spring!