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Thundersley Common is considered to be the finest surviving heathland in Essex with many scarce and distinctive plants.
Today it is managed as public open space by Castle Point Borough Council; formerly it was a common with local residents grazing cattle and horses and collecting water and firewood.
Its continued survival as heathland requires careful management - if it is mown too often the scarce plants will disappear, if it is left uncut it will soon turn to woodland.
The Common is in three areas:- a flat plateau with marshy pools, off Common Approach; a central wood; and a northern area, with heather, gorse and bracken, sloping down to Kingsley Lane.
Thereis free access over the Common. At times the grass may be left uncut to encourage the rare plants.
The transition from common land to public open space has not always been easy. By the 1960's much of the common had become woodland as earlier plans were forgotten and traditional grazing stopped.
in 1972 much of this recent woodland was cleared and the heathers and other scarce plants re-appeared as long dormant seeds were able to germinate.
The southern plateau has a series of marshy pools - these were once used for washing water and for commoners ducks and geese. Today they have scarce plants such as the lesser spearwort.
On the drier ground the yellow flowered tormentil is common and there is a small patch of heather.
Oak, hornbeam and hawthorn are the commonest trees in the central woodland, but there are also aspen,birch,alder buckthorn and the midland hawthorn. The alder buckthorn is the food plant of the brimstone butterfly. There is a curious series of ditches running north - south a few metres apart in the wood.
The common is unusual in that along part of its western and eastern boundaries it has an ancient bank and ditch. There is a superb pollarded service tree on the western bank. Usually access to commons was free and they were not banked.
Possibly part of the common was once a managed wood - many of the plants, - midland hawthorn, wild service, wood anemone and bluebells - are characteristic of ancient woods.
The northern slope is rich in heathland plants. The purple flowered milkwort, the yellow cow wheat, and the mauve cross leaved heath all grow in the islands of heather and gorse among grasses and sedges.
Yet within each of these islands lies the basis for their destruction - hundreds of young trees set seed each year, and if they are not cleared then the heath will soon disappear.
The management of the common seeks to strike a balance so all these varied plants survive.
Access from Common Approach and Kingsley Lane, Thundersley.