Size: 19ha

Ownership: Forest Enterprise

Designation: SSSI

Restrictions: Open access land. Please keep dogs on a lead.

Access: Seale Road car park

Grid ref: SU 89618 45296

Crooksbury Common comprises lowland dry heathland which has been restored from conifer plantation, and is now an important site for reptiles and amphibians supporting all six native reptile species and the rare Natterjack toad.

The reserve

Crooksbury Common forms part of the Puttenham and Crooksbury Commons SSSI. Originally just a few pockets of relict heathland amongst densel conifer plantation, the open historical landscape has been gradually restored over the years through a programme of felling and scrub control. The open heath that has since established comprises stands of mature common heather, interspersed with bell heather. Typifying lowland heathland in Surrey, mature pine trees dot the landscape, whilst common gorse and birch provide patches of scrub. Gorse is particularly important for supporting Dartford warblers; a threatened heathland specialist. Crooksbury even features patches of wild strawberry, uncommon on heathland sites.

All six native species of reptiles are present at Crooksbury Common. The smooth snake is indigenous to the site and another national rarity, the sand lizard, was reintroduced in 1971. The open sandy traces which provide important habitat for the reptiles, also support a range of invertebrates, including many grasshoppers, dragonflies and beetles.

Natterjack toads

As a part of our conservation strategy for this site, ARC have created several ponds at Crooksbury Common to facilitate the reintroduction of the Natterjack toad, one of our rarest native amphibians. Once common throughout the heathlands of Surrey and Hampshire, habitat loss and development have driven their decline and only a handful of sites remain.

Natterjack toads have very specific habitat requirements, including ephemeral ponds for breeding and spawning, and open ground where they can hunt down beetles, ants, moths and other invertebrate prey. They also require a sandy substrate in which to dig burrows to escape the heat of the day, avoid predators and also hibernate in.

What to see

  • All six British reptile species, including indigenous smooth snakes.
  • Natterjack toads and other amphibian species such as palmate newts using the new ponds we have dug on the heath.
  • Several rare species of heathland bird, including the Dartford warbler and nightjar. The beautiful descending song of woodlark can be heard on sunny days throughout the year, but especially in early spring.

Photo copyright Gillian Pullinger