Epsom Common Association Autumn Newsletter 2019

Epsom Common Day It did not rain, it was not too hot or cold, all the stallholders and performers arrived and so did the crowds. Even the clearly independently minded birds of prey did not spend too long hiding in trees. We also had the pleasure of being able to ask the Mayor to raise the recently awarded Green Flag, the thirteenth year in succession that the Common has won this award for well managed green spaces. In short, Epsom Common Day 2019 took place and was, I hope you agree, a success. It was also a financial success. Thanks again to the generosity of many organisations following the cancellation last year, we were able to stage this year’s event for the relatively small additional cost of around £1280. Given that we had £2240 left from last year’s fund raising, we now have about £960 remaining, which we intend to set aside for a future Common Day. We also raised £875 on the day from the raffle and donations from the food sellers and other stalls. We plan to divide some of this among a few of the local organisations, including the ECA, which made particular contributions to the success of the day. The residue after donations will also be set aside for the next Common Day. When will we hold the next Common Day? Certainly not for a few years, the cost and effort are simply too great to repeat soon. Also we think that the event could become stale and attract a smaller crowd if held too often. However 2024 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Association, a landmark we should definitely celebrate. Many thanks to all the individuals and organisations whose efforts made the event possible and everyone who came along and made it such an enjoyable day. David King – Chair

Oak Processionary Moth Those members who walk the Common regularly will know that for several years there have been Forestry Commission notices warning about the presence of Oak Processionary Moth. The moth itself is not the cause of concern, it’s the caterpillars which have toxic hairs that can trigger a serious allergic response in some people and, like nettles, will to some extent affect anyone coming in to contact. The caterpillars feed almost exclusively on oak leaves and form silken nests in June and July which become full of the toxic hairs that are also a health hazard. The impact on the health of our oak trees is unclear, to date they seem to be coping and it should be noted that species of native moth have caterpillars that eat oak leaves. The moth is a non-native originating in south eastern Europe that was accidentally introduced in to London in 2005. Since then it has progressively spread and is now present on Epsom Common and many other locations in south London and northern Surrey. Across the infested area attempts to halt its progress through spraying oak trees in spring and nest removal in summer have not been very successful and there is on-going discussion with the Forestry Commission about how best to address the situation. Many landowners are now faced with a large proportion of the oak trees on their land having nests, along with the knowledge that the recommended and expensive control methods are not preventing the moths spread. On Epsom Common during summer 2019 it became clear in June that there had been a significant increase in nests compared to previous years and that quite a large number of nests were low down, sometimes only a few feet from the ground. In response Council Officers initiated a Borough wide approach in open spaces of cordoning off and removing nests below head height that were alongside well used paths or within grazed areas and nests over locations where people might congregate (e.g. playgrounds, BBQ areas, seats, etc). In the end somewhere in the region of seventy nests were removed from Epsom & Ewell open spaces, with the majority from the grazed areas on Epsom Common where the nests were a threat to cattle as well as people and pets. Horton Country Park also had quite a few nests removed. The Council posted additional notices at affected sites during last summer, encouraging visitors to be on the lookout for nests, to avoid contact, to report nest locations and seek medical advice if experiencing an allergic reaction. During 2019 knowledge of the subject also increased, with some cause for hope. News was released that a non-native parasitic fly, Carcelia iliaca, had been recorded. The fly exclusively parasitises the Oak Processionary Moth so there is hope it could help control the moth population without any threat to native wildlife. Even more hopefully, surveying nests last summer showed that the fly is already present on both Epsom and Ashtead Common. In addition surveying found that a large proportion of nests had golf ball sized holes in them and there was a chance sighting of a Great Tit plucking a large caterpillar from a hole. It seems our native birdlife might be developing a taste and could help control numbers. Thankfully, whilst the level of infestation seems high there have been very few reports of people or pets being affected on Epsom Common. Nevertheless considerable concern remains and all members visiting the Common should stay vigilant, especially next June and July and report any nests they see, particularly if below head height in the locations described above. Please also spread the message to family, friends and other visitors who use Epsom Common. Stewart Cocker, E&EBC Countryside Team

ECoVols Report We’re heading into Autumn and the few remaining tasks of the year, but it’s never too late to come and help out with the conservation of the Common. October – Sunday 20th and Monday 21st – Great Pond – meet daily at the Stew Pond car park noticeboard at 9.30am. A similar task to last year, cutting back scrub and sallow to improve the wetland margin for waterfowl. November – Sunday 17th and Monday 18th – Christ Church Glade – meet daily at the entrance to the Common, off the old Christ Church Road between the roundabouts, at 9.30am. This glade is next to a group of Scots Pines that is a roost for birds of prey. We aim to open up the glade edges to prevent it from becoming overgrown. We’re still making charcoal on the first Sunday, unless the weather is against us, and finish for the year on November 3rd. You can buy our excellent lumpwood charcoal, made from oak or hazel harvested from Epsom and Ashtead Commons, at £5 a bag from The Lower Mole Trust, 2 West Park Farmhouse, Horton Country Park or contact John Turner directly.

Cattle Grazing This year we hosted a total of fifteen animals between the end of May and the end of September. The herd comprised: Angus, Belted Galloway, Dexter and Shorthorn breeds distributed over three areas: Great Pasture, Rye Meadow and Horton Heath. 2019 is the 23rd season since grazing with cattle was re-established in 1997. As expected grazing has resulted in a greater diversity of plant life and consequently animal life as well. Highlights include unusual plants like Corky Fruited Water Dropwort and butterflies like the Silver Washed Fritillary, whose caterpillars feed on the common violet. Re-introduction of cattle is our attempt to manage the common as a more balanced ecosystem, where the cattle play the role of the large herbivore and we play the controlling role of large carnivore. In a fully wild and balanced ecosystem, disease, weather, fire and predator numbers would all impact on the number of large herbivores. Nature is well adapted to such change and in our management of grazing on the Common we have been varying the number of cattle. This year, in discussions with the farmer, we decided to significantly reduce the number in Great Pasture from twelve in 2018 to eight. The impact has been very noticeable with open grass areas clearly not being as heavily grazed and consequently this year many plants have had more opportunity to flower and set seed. The long-term results of having years with lower grazing pressure will not reveal themselves for several years but is hoped that mimicking what happens in balanced wild ecosystems will result in increased plant and animal diversity on the Common. Volunteers from the Association assist in checking the health and security of the cattle. To join us, please contact Bruce Critchley at [email protected] for information.

Dates for your Diary After another successful series of nature walks we plan to run a similar programme on Sundays in 2020. Thanks to all our walk leaders for leading walks again this year. Our Bat Walk was particularly popular with over 30 people joining us. We saw and heard Daubentons, Common Pipistrelle and Soprano Pipistrelle, and large groups of Canada Geese put on a display as they came in to roost on the Great Pond. Please check the notice boards, our website or Facebook for future walks and talks.

Heathlands Our annual Autumn Get Together this year features an illustrated talk on heathlands by Mary Braddock, RSPB conservation volunteer, Farnham and Hazeley Heaths. Thursday November 21st 2019 Christ Church Hall, Christ Church Road, Epsom Commencing at 8:00pm Refreshments available after the talk – Doors open at 7:45pm 

If you like to join the ECA or like more information make sure you check out their website CLICK HERE

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