RESCUING ASHTEAD PARK

Ashtead Park is an historic parkland that has not received the attention it merits since the end of World War II. In the 17th century it was part of the Howard estate and in the late 19th century belonged to Pantia Ralli. It was sold on his death in 1924 to an anonymous buyer, and then transferred to the Corporation of the City London who established the Freeman’s School in the Mansion House, and in the southern part of the Park north to Rookery Hill.


The area between Rookery Hill and the Epsom Road was bought by Major Chance, and earmarked for the building of detached and semi-detached homes, with the possibility of business on the frontage to the main road. A local builder, W. Robinson, started work but his plans for 114 houses were turned down in 1946 as the Greater London Plan of 1944 recommended no further development should take place.

In 1957 this northern section of the Park was acquired by Surrey County Council, and then transferred to Leatherhead Urban District Council – which was then subsumed into Mole Valley District Council in 1974. In 1996 the 24.18 hectare (59.75 acre) Park was categorised as a Local Nature Reserve by English Nature, the forerunner of Natural England.


The northern section of the Park was originally part of the Mansion House grounds. In the 17th and 18th centuries it was laid out with the still-existing ornamental ponds (to which the Leatherhead and District Angling Society have fishing rights) and was evidently rather open with scattered specimen trees. These include veteran oaks, some of which may well be 400 years old, some large hornbeams and maples, along with a wide range of exotic trees, some remaining today. The Park also includes various conifers as well as some broad leaved species such as Yellow Buckeye (Aesculus flava) and Caucasian Elm (Zelkova carpinifolia).


Veteran oak in open grassy area

Substantive management has been lacking since the 1940s with the result that much of the area has become secondary, derelict, woodland, and is very far from the original concept of parkland. Many of the paths are ill-defined and muddy, and much of the Park is now impenetrable because of dense stands of saplings, young trees, and extensive, thick growths of brambles. These make much of the Park very dark and lacking attractive views although some open grassy areas have been maintained by periodic mowing.


Mole Valley District Council had a contract with the Surrey Wildlife Trust to manage this, and other Council-owned sites of conservation importance, but the contract was terminated in 2019 because it was not being fulfilled. As members of the Cabinet in 2018–19, Ashtead Independent Councillors David Hawksworth and Patricia Wiltshire, secured the new post of a Tree and Countryside Officer to take responsibility for, amongst other tasks, developing a long-term management plan for Ashtead Park. Such a coherent plan is necessary to safeguard and enhance all the wildlife there, but because of various staff issues, little progress has been made.


Your Councillors are keen to move forward with restoration of Ashtead Park and they have had meetings and discussions over the last three years with key Council staff to consider the development of the long-term management plan. The aims are to make the Park an attractive venue for recreation and observing wildlife, but also to create improved access into some areas, particularly for disabled visitors. With the Council’s adoption of an Ecological Emergency (see story here) and some new staff appointments, there is every hope that the vision will now begin to be realised.


It is envisaged that some of the tasks necessary to improve the Park will be undertaken by volunteer groups, comparable to those who work on Ashtead Common and the Rye Brook Meadows. To make a start, on Wednesday 30th November, a volunteer working party made up of volunteers from

The Friends of Deepdene volunteer group, and any Ashtead residents who care to help, will be carrying out some conservation work. The meeting place will be the car park on Park Drive at 09.45 am. Some tools will be provided, but anyone interested in joining is welcome and should bring their own refreshments, wear suitable clothing and gloves, and bring gardening tools (bow saws, loppers etc) if they have them. The party will work continue no later than 15.00 pm as the light fades – but all will be free to finish whenever they wish.


In the longer term, your Ashtead Independent Councillors would like to launch an Ashtead Park User Group, as suggested for the Recreation Ground (see story here), to help guide the development of the long-term management plan and ensure it meets the needs of a wide range of users.

We also hope that the Mole Valley Wildlife Conservation Consultative Group, which includes naturalists with particular specialisms, will become involved in carrying out surveys to determine the range species present and to advise on how their habitats are best conserved and/or enhanced.