|Ranger Luke Barley (right) talking to a group on West Wickham Common|
The common has a complicated history. There are signs of iron age and Anglo-Saxon workings. At one point you can see rubble from London that was dumped over an old gravel quarry during the blitz (World War II). Most of it was open, grazed common land until the late 19th century, after which trees have grown up or been planted.
Some say that parts of it are ancient woodland. There are indicator species for that, like butcher's broom and bluebells. But the pollarded oaks could only have grown in open land, or they would have been shaded out; so this woodland is probably old, but not ancient. Another pointer to this is that there are no small-leaved limes, another indicator species, which are abundant in the nearby Spring Wood, and would be expected in other nearby ancient woodlands.
|A cleared area to one side of a veteran oak|
The ancient pollarded oaks are nearly all in poor condition, and their management is tricky. Currently the wardens fence around some of them to reduce footfall, and carefully clear away brush and shading trees. The shade is removed one quarter at a time, to reduce the shock of changed conditions, which is thought to be damaging.
The first photo shows one of the veteran oaks on the downslope near where the old gravel quarry used to be, with Luke and the group. The second photo is the same oak, taken from the road below through the gap caused by the clearing work that was done soon afterwards. You can click on the photos to see more detail.
Because you can't see much of the oak trees in those photos, here are a couple of shots elsewhere on the common, taken in February.
|Veteran oaks on West Wickham Common in winter|