Since 1891 Mitcham Common has been administered and regulated by the Mitcham Common Conservators. The Common was formerly part of a much larger tract of continuous pasture land spanning from Croydon to Mitcham. Other areas included Beddington Farmlands, Three Kings Piece, Figge’s Marsh, Cranmer Green and Croydon Common.
The Common’s original oak woodland community was cleared with the arrival of early Neolithic people, and subsequently kept open and infertile through agricultural practices such as grazing. Due to the nature of the underlying gravels, the inherent soil is largely acidic and infertile. Consequently with the aid of grazing, low growing shrubs and acid grassland / heathland were dominant.
In the early 19th Century, road building became a priority, and the gravels underlying Mitcham Common were seen as a valuable resource. This led to the creation of Seven Islands Pond amongst others.
The withdrawal of commoners grazing sheep and cattle due to the onslaught of urbanisation around 1909, led to the decline of the characteristic grassland and heathland. Instead these habitats suffered and degenerated with the invasion of uncontrolled scrub and woodland encroachment.
The twentieth century has witnessed several impacts on the Common for various reasons. Some of the ponds created by gravel extraction were filled in between the wars, and ploughing for agriculture to aid the war effort took place on either side of Cedars Avenue. Also during the mid to late 1900s, areas were used as landfill for inert waste, which forms the hills currently found. This destroyed parcels of valuable wet habitat, and irrecoverably altered the hydrology of the Common. Conversely however, it provided much needed revenue for the Conservators and good vantage points as the resulting hills modified the topography of the Common.
Since the 1980s the Mitcham Common Conservators have been following a management plan focussed on the conservation of the Common’s many important habitats. This plan prioritises the maintenance and enhancement of areas of acid grassland and heathland, because such habitats are increasingly rare, threatened with fragmentation and lost to agriculture or development.
‘Mitcham Common’ By Eric Montague
This is a fascinating account of the history of the Common and can by purchased from the Mill House Ecology Centre price £5.00 plus £2.00 postage and packing.
First printed in 1970 by the Mitcham Common Preservation Society and reprinted in this enlarged edition in 2001.