The Manor of Battersea and Wandsworth, which included what we now call Wandsworth Common, dates back to the 11th century.

 
 

It was once all one piece, contained within an area comprising Battersea West Heath and Wandsworth East Heath, not then called Wandsworth Common. It was owned by the Earls Spencer and called ‘waste’ land because it was not suitable for agriculture, but people were allowed to collect wood, graze cattle and dig gravel.

 
 
 Wandsworth Common Map
 

Wandsworth Common today
 

The Common we see today is a haphazard collection of no fewer than twelve pieces of varying size, some of which are not thought of as Wandsworth Common even by many locals.

Take a look at our map, which is on sale for just £2 in the Skylark and Toast Rack Cafés, to familiarise yourself with its 177 acres.


The present common is roughly the same overall shape as the original but its acreage is less than half the original, with chunks cut out due mainly to building, including Wandsworth prison, Emmanuel School and the Royal Victoria Patriotic Building. The rest of the reduction and fragmentation was caused by the construction of the railways from Clapham Junction in the mid 1800s and the construction of roads.

 

The common is classed as a site of borough importance grade 1 for nature conservation. It has nine different ecological habitats, including the pond and lakes, amphibian wetland, grassland, including acid grassland, meadows and woodland. Only native trees are planted today.

 
 

Management of the common is a balancing act: balancing a heritage landscape with biodiversity and use by an ever-growing number of people for a variety of formal and informal recreation.

Much of the information in this section was contributed by Aviva and Charles Walton, with comments from Enable's Valerie Selby
 
 


Grasslands

The natural grassland provides a perfect habitat for wild flowers, butterflies, grasshoppers and other insects. Bare patches of earth have an important function. The soil warms and nurtures insects. Solitary wasps and bees live in tiny holes in the ground. Natural wildlife grasslands thrive on poor soil.

The acid grassland area on the Scope, in this picture, are of particular importance. They are characterised by clumps of tussock grass and are present in only a few areas of London.
 

 


Woodland

There are several different woodland areas on the Common. The one opposite is on the Scope; other examples are on the fringes of Bellevue Field, around the lake and on Bolingbroke Field along the railway line. Where light reaches the ground through the trees a variety of grasses and shrubs, mosses and lichens, wild flowers and plants can grow. Woodlands provide everything a creature who lives there needs — food, water, shelter. Stag beetles, centipedes and fungi live in decaying wood. Small animals, such as mice, can hide inside dead trees and around the roots. Many species of birds live and nest up in the tree canopy, as well as bats, like the pipistrelle.
 

 


The Scope

This very distinct area of the common is managed particularly for biodiversity. Look out for the meadow and open glades, acid grassland hummocks, young oaks, tall leaning black poplar trees, purple moor grass, cowslips and bluebells in the spring.

The orange circles found on some oaks is to show that they are free from oak processionary moth.

 


The pond and lakes

This water habitat teems with life: insects such as pond skaters and dragonflies, several types of fish, and common newts. Swans, geese and ducks live on the water (see fauna). Reeds, irises and numerous other plants grow around the edge. Can you spot an Egyptian goose, a mallard, a moorhen and a coot?

Look for a grey heron standing still on the edge of the water, a cormorant spreading its wings to dry at the top of a tree. A robin may fly onto a branch close to you.

This is a sensitive area in the spring, when young birds are hatching. Keep dogs on a lead by the pond and don’t let them into the water (see dogs).

 


Amphibian wetland

An area has been created especially for wildlife such as newts, frogs and water-loving insects. It also provides a catchment area for water after heavy rain, preventing it running into the railway cutting — a good example of wildlife and public transport management working in harmony.

 


Birds & waterfowl

The Common has its own volunteer ornithologist — Peter White — who can be seen regularly on the Common (if you’re up early enough) and his reports are published every month on the Enable website.

He also leads walks every quarter, starting from Wandsworth Common station (see our calendar).

Last year there was much excitement — even a Twitter storm — when a rare Night Heron was spotted on the island in the main lake. This attracted several local birders who could be seen with their scopes trained on the bird which, as its name suggests, was asleep for most of the time.

A sparrowhawk also nests on the common and can sometimes be seen.

 
 Wandsworth Common Food Bags


Swan & duck food project

Since 2013, a group of volunteers have been filling the candy striped bags you see on sale in Skylark with swan and duck food. This is much healthier for the ducks than bread, even brown bread, and is an easy way for us to help the birds and provide a revenue stream for the Common. All profits go to education and enhancement projects, such as the map and website.

Bread is junk food for ducks. It lacks nutrients, can cause disease and stunt the growth of ducklings. It either falls to the bottom of the lake, damaging the water quality, and if left floating at the edge of the pond it attracts rats and other pests.

There are other natural foods you can feed the ducks — grain in particular, but also clover and grass, chopped raw green vegetables, grapes cut in half, defrosted peas etc.

 


Butterflies

This section has been written by Ian Cunningham, the Common’s volunteer butterfly recorder. 

Do you think that butterflies on the Common are limited to cabbage whites?

That’s natural as the whites catch the eye. So it may be a surprise that, in 20 or so years of regular monitoring, 28 specific species have been found. Only a handful are white. 19 can be expected to appear every year.

The 19 are: small skipper, Essex skipper, large skipper, brimstone, large white, small white, green veined white, orange tip, purple hairstreak, common blue, holly blue, red admiral, small tortoiseshell, peacock, speckled wood, comma, gatekeeper, meadow brown and ringlet.

 

The Common is protected by the Parks and Events Police

 

If you see something which contravenes the bye-laws, whether anti-social behaviour, dangerous cycling, out of control dogs or illegal sports activity, contact the police on their mobile 07500 959442. If possible, follow up with an e-mail to parkspolice@wandsworth.gov.uk

Latest statistics on warnings issued and prosecutions pursued can be found here 

 

 Michael Litter Collector

Litter

Removing litter from Wandsworth greenspaces costs £1/3 million every year, money that could be better spent on more useful things.

There is only one dedicated litter picker for the whole of the Common – Michael (photo). Say hello when you see him and thank him for the great job he does. Make his job easier by taking your litter home or put it in the green or open mesh bins. Litter encourages pests — rats and crows — can kill animals and birds and looks awful.

Many individuals help by regularly picking up others’ litter when they see it. They do a great job and are unsung heroes. But if you collect large amounts of rubbish and expect it to be collected, agree it with Enable in advance so they can factor it into their collection schedule. Unscheduled collections are very expensive.

Like other Friends groups, we would like to organise litter picks eventually, with proper equipment, so please contact us if you're interested in helping. 

Leave the Common as you would wish to find it.


Key points

1. Cycle only on shared-use paths, keep to the 12mph limit and watch out for others

2. Organised sport must be booked.

3. Fitness trainers must be licensed.

4. Fishing only at designated times, with a permit.

 

5. Dogs must be under control at all times, on leads by the lake and not allowed in the water. Put dog poo in the red bins.

6. Dog walkers need a license for more than 4 animals.

7. No BBQs.

8. Leave the common as you would wish to find it

 

Use of the Common by schools and others for organised activities must be booked through idverde. This directs people to specific areas of the Common, evening out the wear and tear and leaving areas free for passive recreation. See the summer pitch designations here

Fitness trainers/groups must be licensed. This helps ensure they know how to operate on the Common. They should not attach apparatus to any trees, benches or other Common infrastructure like the trim trail. Make sure your trainer doesn’t and check they are licensed.  

 
 

Sports that can be booked in designated areas include:

  1. Football
  2. Rugby
  3. Touch Rugby
  4. Cricket
  5. Rounders
  6. Softball
  7. And more...


 

Toilets/changing: the only facilities are at the back of the Neal’s Lodge complex, between the tennis courts and the Enable offices.

 
 

Twenty years ago there was very little cycling on the Common. Today, increasing numbers of people want to cycle for exercise, enjoyment, or simply to get from A to B.

The challenge is to balance this need with the needs of other users

 
 
 Shared use path

Shared use path

 No cycling

No cycling


There are no dedicated cycle paths. Paths are either shared use or no cycling, indicated by the adjacent signs. The speed limit is 12mph, and when cycling over the railway bridge in the middle of the Common — the Catsback Bridge — cyclists are requested to dismount.

Most cyclists follow the rules perfectly happily and are content to share the Common with other users (even though admittedly the signage is not always as clear as it could be). Unfortunately there are a minority who don’t: infringements of the bye-laws related to cycling are the single biggest reason for the police to issue verbal and written warnings, and in a few cases prosecutions.

The rules are simple: keep to the shared use paths and observe the 12mph speed limit. Watch out for others. Off road cycling damages grass and paths through erosion, especially when wet, and can disturb and distress people and wildlife.

 

Dogs and their owners are important users of the Common and can be a welcome sight for all if a few simple rules are followed. Mostly they are but sometimes they’re not. Warnings to dog owners are the second most frequent type of warning from the police issued on the Common.

 
 

The bye-laws state that dogs must be under control at all time. Legally, this means if a dog is off its leash, it must obey its owner after a maximum of three commands. 

  • Familiarise yourself with the Council’s two dog control maps for the northern and southern halves of the Common. They show where dogs are excluded or must be on a leash. Obey the signs.
  • Specific rules apply to dogs near the pond. Officially, dogs must be on a leash when near the pond and they should not enter the water (puddles are okay though). This is because dogs can disturb, injure and even kill wildfowl, including swans, and especially their offspring. The water is also not as clean as it might seem.
  • It is an offence under the bye-laws not to pick up your dog’s mess. Put it in the red bins provided. Dog poo contains bacteria and parasites that are harmful to people and wildlife.
  • An individual may not walk more than four dogs at one time without a license. A dog walking license restricts the number of dogs walked to a maximum of eight. Only 50 licenses are available throughout Wandsworth.

Fishing is only allowed in the southern basin of the lake, from June 16 to March 14.

Anglers require a permit from Enable LC.

Neither the lake nor the fish in it occur naturally. The lake is rain fed, topped up from the mains when needed. Fish are introduced for the benefit of anglers and are confined to the larger, deeper, southern basin adjacent to Bellevue Field. There is a stone barrier under the bridge to stop fish moving to the smaller, shallower basin next to the railway line. However, anglers sometimes return fish there, where they breed but sometimes have difficulty surviving. They are surveyed and removed every three years. The small pond by Bolingbroke Road contains no fish.

Hot summers like the one we have experienced in 2018 highlight the challenges for both the fish and the people who manage the Common's lakes and ponds. Oxygen levels in the shallow, heated water in the lake by the railway have often become depleted (hot water carries less oxygen), causing one episode where adult fish were seen gasping for breath and another where hundreds of small fry died overnight. Gasping fish per se are not necessarily a problem - it is normal behaviour at certain times of year - but because a number of different species were displaying similar behaviour, it was put down to low oxygen levels and pumps were deployed to raise oxygen levels. Murky water is also not necessarily a bad sign, as many of the fish are bottom dwellers and stir up the mud as they eat and breed. The second incident in late July occurred immediately after the first heavy rainfall in weeks and this was not a coincidence. Although the fresh water itself would have been beneficial, it is thought that the sudden deluge brought low oxygenated water to the surface, where the small fry live, and caused their sudden death.

Enable have been considering how to improve oxygenation for some time and this year's events have made it a higher priority. The problem is that, unlike the Bolingbroke Pond, which has a pump powered by electricity from Bolingbroke Road, there is no electricity supply close to the main lake. Introducing one - even using solar power - would be expensive and disruptive and there is a valid question whether an appropriate use of scarce resources is to protect fish in an environment not best suited to them. Until such time as a solution is found, there may be further distressing incidents of fish struggling to survive.