Size: 28ha

Ownership: Amphibian and Reptile Conservation

Designation: SAC, SPA, SSSI

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

Access:  Off Lea Coach Road

Grid ref: SU 92462 39922

Owned and managed by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Witley Common is an excellent example of dry lowland heathland, to which sand lizards and smooth snakes have been successfully re-introduced and continue to thrive.

The reserve

Witley Common forms part of the Thursley, Hankley and Frensham Commons complex. A Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), the common is also designated as a Special Area of Conservation, recognising the importance of its dry heath habitats in a European context; and a Special Protection Area, because of the rare heathland birds it supports.

The site consists primarily of lowland dry heathland, but also contains grassland, secondary birch woodland, ponds and a small area of hazel coppice. The gently undulating south-facing slopes and sandy traces of Witley Common are an ideal habitat for reptiles. At the southern end of the site an area of scrub and grassland has established on an old Victorian bottle-dump, which is now used a hibernacula by slow worms and grass snakes and supports the rare small-flowered buttercup (Ranunculus parviflorus).

Reintroductions

Two nationally rare native reptiles, the sand lizard and smooth snake, have been successfully reintroduced to Witley; sand lizards first, in 1994, followed by smooth snakes in 1998. The site is now actively managed to support these species. Sand lizards require open areas of bare sand in which they lay eggs, whilst smooth snakes inhabit mature heather stands with a mossy base.

What to see

  • Witley Common supports all six native reptile species, as well as the more common amphibian species, which can be observed in the ponds to the north of the site.
  • In April and May, watch for male sand lizards in full breeding colour as they court the less showy females.
  • Nightjars also return from Africa in April and May to breed in Britain during the summer. Males can often be heard calling or ‘churring’, particularly on warm, still evenings.

Photo copyright Gillian Pullinger