Changes to Frensham Common

The interview reports contain considerable detail on changes to specific areas of the common.

For example, one interviewee thought that areas of the common were now drier, and that the water levels in the Little Pond were lower than when he was a child.  One interviewee remembered the ‘The Flashes’ area as always very boggy, with cotton grass and sundews.  Another described the large areas of drainage channels she had seen as a child, which gradually filled in. She felt the areas had been very much wetter than now, and could not recall any of the ponds drying up – she felt the drying up of ponds had only happened over the last 10-15 years.

Others recalled differing quantities of gorse, bracken and heather, in different parts of the common.  For example, one interviewee described the land between the Little Pond and the Kings Ridge as being ‘always kept low’, because that was where the cattle grazed.  Another interviewee remembered a lot of gorse across the heath from the school, and few pine trees; and recalled nothing on the top of Kings Ridge but the odd pine tree; she also recalled bracken being prevalent on the Little Pond side of Kings Ridge.  One interviewee recalled less bracken in the past, stating that there was ‘nowhere near as much as there is now’. However, when it came to heather, she noted that the areas she knew best had been those grazed by cattle, hence she could recall only short heather, and not long heather.  These views on vegetation were not always consistent: one interviewee recalled that there used to be a lot more gorse in the 1930s, especially in the Golden Valley.

Some of the wildlife which the interviewees recollected seeing in the area (not necessarily on the common itself) included deer, woodcocks, lapwings, larks, barn owls, pewits, nightingales, nightjars, fieldfares, sandmartins, and natterjack toads.  One interviewee pointed to a decline in the number of small song birds in the area, and that larger birds such as magpies had replaced them.

Military training and tank activity seems to have made a major impact on the landscape, and is described as having churned up the common, flattened trees etc.  Indeed, the Second World War was seen by many as a watershed, with the vegetation changing dramatically afterwards.  For example, one interviewee suggested that birch trees growing behind the war memorial appeared after the Second World War, and described how once the army had left, birch and bracken had grown over large areas.  She attributed this largely to the fact that people were busy trying to recover their lives: ‘there were so many things to be seen to, and so many things that had to be put back, that it (the common) was forgotten and nature took over.’  The same interviewee felt that attitudes towards the common had changed more considerably after the end of the Second World War, and felt that people did not pay it ‘enough respect’; by the time they noticed changes, there was almost too much work to be done.

A number of interviewees pointed to the increase in trees and scrub, with views and land that they remembered as open now being blocked with vegetation.  One of the older interviewees, born in 1908, suggested that one of the main changes on the common was the increase in trees, stating that ‘I think more trees have come on the common’; when she revisited the cottage where she was born, she felt that ‘it is not really like it was, not like the common, there are so many more trees’.  Another interviewee felt that the trees had grown over the last 30-40 years, during the war years and that, ‘They (trees) have blocked everything out and of course take masses of water – that’s another reason why the water’s not trickling through.’  Another interviewee similarly suggested that ‘It was all open, there were no trees like it is now.’  He recalled very little gorse, though some bracken; he now felt that he had seen bracken and fir trees take over the common in his lifetime, and that the gorse had grown up in the last forty years.  He remembered that the Little Pond was ‘completely open’ when he went swimming.  He also remembered the Great and Little Ponds being clear – he was able to see fish in the shallow parts, and had seen no blue-green algae.

There were strong memories of fires, mostly accidental (caused by cigarettes, glass, and in one case, a steam engine), including a large one at the ‘Jumps’ and one which went on for ‘days and days’.  One interviewee described how after a major fire, one area grew back very strongly with fir, and another came back with heather and some birch.

One interviewee noted that local children and adults used the common more in the past than now, but he felt that as there were fewer of them, the common was less damaged then than now.  Another pointed to more land being fenced off.  One interviewee noted a more positive change, suggesting that ‘now there are lovely paths all around’, and that ‘there was nothing like that before’.


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