Banstead Commons and Banstead Commons Conservators
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Banstead Downs
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Where are the Downs?
Banstead Downs
(OS 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 fauna.
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 Interest
Banstead 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. 

In 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 Autumn on the Downscontinue 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), Plantlife and the  Downlands Project

There 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.
gentianNatural History of Banstead Downs 
Flora of Banstead Downs   
Banstead Downs is north-facing and has an unusual chalk downland flora especially with regard to the scrub habitat that in places can be dominated by common 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.

In general, 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 vetch, 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 

Banstead Downs does however have a number of its own rarities including two little gems that are nationally endangered,  Earl
y Gentian (Gentianella anglica, above right) and Broad-leaved Cudweed (Filago pyrimidata).
                                        
Fauna of Banstead Downs 
                                              

Mammals regularly seen on the Downs include fox, rabbit and stoat although you will have to get up early to see the latter, as you would to see Roe deer.  Smaller mammals including weasels, voles and shrews are abundant although not necessarily easily seen. 


As far as birds go the Downs support a wide range of species the most colourful owhich include Greater-spotted and Green Woodpeckers,Chalkhill Blue Bullfinches and Goldfinches.  Both Kestrels and Sparrowhawks have nested 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 scrub supports a large population of the more common warblers, whitethroat, lesser whitethroat, blackcap, willow and garden warblers. 

Thanks 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.