About Our Commons
There are several commons within the parishes of Sheringham and Beeston Regis. The largest is the SSSI of Beeston Common and Sheringham Common, which lie to the south of the A149 between the two parishes. Other Commons include Top Common and Beeston Back Common, which lie to the north of the A149. The Commons consist of mixed and varied habitats – grassland, heath, wetland and secondary woodland. They support a variety of plants and animals that, in some cases, are among the last stronghold of certain species within the County. The maintenance of the commons and the SSSI is the responsibility of Sheringham Town Council. The council are very grateful for the support of the Beeston Common Management Group. This voluntary group, under the expert guidance of the Hon. Warden Francis Farrow (volunteer), deals with the day to day management of the commons and also the strategy for sustaining and developing them appropriately. Natural England provide funding for part of the commons maintenance and any further funding needs are met from the precept. The Hon. Warden also attends the Allotments, Cemetery and Commons Committee meetings and reports about the commons and significant sightings through information boards and in the local press. Volunteers are always most welcome to support the Beeston Common Management group.
As with all natural environments nothing is static and habitats change over time. Active management of the areas helps to maintain and improve the habitats. Many processes affect an area like the Commons, which in turn creates changes in their biodiversity. Biodiversity is the ‘variety of plant and animal life in a particular place, a high level of which is usually considered to be important and desirable’.
With the advantage of the long-term recording that these areas have undergone, changes in biodiversity become apparent. Grazing by ponies and goats was a major feature of the Commons up to the 1970s. Since the practice stopped, most ground nesting birds have been lost. The loss of open grassy areas is, however, only part of the problem as the urbanisation of surrounding fields, a general lowering of the water table and a nutrient-rich groundwater are also factors that, when combined, produce unsuitable conditions. Although certain breeding birds have declined, warblers are doing well in the more scrubby conditions with six species regularly breeding.
In conjunction with Natural England Approved Contractors, the wetlands, grasslands and heathland areas are managed on a rotational basis. This provides a mosaic of habitats that benefit the plants and wildlife. There has been an increase in the spread of the three insectivorous plants, the Butterwort, Round-leaved Sundew and Greater Sundew as well as the scarce Black Bog Rush since regular cutting of the marshes has taken place. In the damper grasslands swathes of Meadow Buttercup, Ragged Robin and Water Mint attract many insects. In the drier areas the tall grasses provide the perfect habitat for Meadow Brown and Skipper butterflies.
Generally butterflies have prospered, especially from the warm summers during the late 1980s through to the early to mid-1990s. These weather conditions, along with the continued cutback of scrub, the opening up of bracken dominated areas and the establishment of a flexible mowing regime which provides a sward of different grass heights, has allowed new species to colonise the area. Presently some 28 species of butterfly have been recorded with 24 species recorded annually and possibly breeding on the site. The latest additions include White Admiral recorded annually since 2006 and in July 2017 a Purple Emperor was observed. Moths have also been recorded over the years and, although general decline continues, new species for the site are being found annually.
Dragonflies can also be spotted in the area. Since 1984, the local pond has been permanent with a constant feed from one of the becks. This has resulted in no less than 19 species being recorded of which 14 have been known to breed. In addition the Keeled Skimmer, which breeds in small boggy pools, has been present since 1989 and is now well established. In recent years the Red-veined Darter has been recorded and is suspected of breeding. Another relative newcomer to the UK, the Willow Emerald has been seen since 2016.