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The image below shows a montage  of aerial photographs of The Common taken in 1926 (thanks to Simon Hill), and Google Earth ™  satellite images from 1999 and 2015 (© Google Earth) showing changes in the area covered by  woodland over time. Yellow circles indicate the most recent encroachment. Click on the image for an enlarged view. See also here for maps for the whole Common.


Historically, The Common was open ground with small areas of woodland and planting, and was kept that way by grazing by animals owned by Commoners. Once grazing ceased (early eighteenth century), The Common needed direct human intervention to maintain the nature of the land. As a result of management policies and reduced Council staffing levels, over the past 50 years the nature of The Common has changed hugely, from 30% wooded to over 70% wood and scrub. This has resulted in a very large loss of open public space (some 130 acres!). Moreover, much of the encroachment has been by poor quality, invasive, self-set saplings like holly, laurel and sallow with a dense, scrub undergrowth including much bramble and ivy (there being neither rabbits and dear nor human intervention to keep it in check). This makes much of the wooded areas impenetrable and of poor quality. Historic features like the Carriage Drive on Little Common have also been changed significantly by uncontrolled vegetation and important habitats like the original heathland have greatly reduced and become fragmented.

There is now a groundswell of public opinion concerned to try to redress the balance, reclaim open space for City residents and restore and expand habitats at risk. . A group called Common Sense, founded by Highfield residents has been working on Little Common for several years, trying to re open areas with great initial success but much of that effort has been undone by the failure of Council to maintain the cleared state. SCF is now also actively involved in practical work parties to improve access and habitats, in particular trying to restore heath land south of the Ornamental Lake. More

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Copyright © Southampton Common Forum - 2021

Copyright © Southampton Common Forum - 2021

Other concerns include householder encroachment onto the margins of The Common, essentially fencing parts of it off for private use, damage to the historic perimeter bank and encroachment onto paths, especially on The Avenue and Highfield Avenue. Again SCF volunteers have attempted to reclaim these pavements but the clearance has not been maintained by Council.

One of the initial aims of the Forum is to help write a management plan for The Common, which, amongst other aims, would identify which areas should be cleared to recreate open space, and which should be managed to promote the development of higher quality, more diverse and biodiverse woodland with better access for visitors to enjoy and appreciate it.