Tooting Common Heritage Project
Wandsworth Council has been awarded just under £1.4m by the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of a larger £1.9m scheme to explore, restore, conserve and enhance the cultural and natural heritage of Tooting Common.
About the project
Tooting Common Heritage Project will work in partnership with local community groups to improve and monitor biodiversity and habitats, to conserve and restore heritage landscape and architectural features, uncover the hidden history of the Common as well as teaching people about the its rich past and biodiversity. It will provide new volunteering opportunities and transferable skills to local residents.
Initiated by Wandsworth Council, managed by Enable Leisure and Culture in partnership with the South London Swimming Club, the Woodfield Project, Quadron Services Ltd, the Tooting History Group and the Wandsworth Historical Society. Funded by Heritage Lottery Fund and Wandsworth Council.
Works to explore, restore, conserve and enhance the cultural and natural heritage of Tooting Common include:
- Restoration of the 1930s drinking fountain and the fossil tree enclosure
- Restoration and expansion of acid grassland areas on the Lido Field and Tooting Graveney Woods
- Developing a heritage trail for Tooting Common to convey the historical significance of the site
- The creation of marginal aquatic vegetation parcels on Tooting Bec Lake
- Improving conditions for assorted veteran trees and historic tree avenues
- Removing and replanting the Horse Chestnut Avenue
- Additional tree planting, tree disease investigation and tree strategy development
- To restore and refurbish the Woodfield pavilion as a low-energy and multipurpose building and to establish it as a community hub
- Providing accredited training and learning opportunities in horticulture and conservation for local people on Tooting Common
- Exploring the rich history of Tooting Common through historical research and communicate the historical significance of the common to a wider audience
- Celebrating the history of the South London Swimming Club and safeguarding the history and heritage of Tooting Bec Lido through restoration and interpretation
Heritage Landscape Restoration
Acid Grassland Restoration
The aim is to substantially increase the existing footprint of acid grassland with the aim to safeguard the future of this habitat on the Common as well as contribute to local and national biodiversity targets (acid grassland being a London Biodiversity Action Plan priority habitat).
The work will entail the removal of invasive species including bramble, scrub and tall herb, as well as coppicing hawthorn tress and removing some overcrowded oak and turkey oak species. This will help reduce shading and reduce nutrient rich leaf litter falling onto the grassland which affects acidity levels. Later in the project there will be some shallow scraping and the removal of nutrient rich soil. This will help recreate the delicate acid grassland landscape which provides a habitat for invertebrates like butterflies and grasshoppers.
Tooting Bec Common Lake Restoration
Through the project, the aim is to create marginal aquatic vegetation parcels along the sanctuary on the east side of the lake to improve water quality and create nesting opportunities for birds.
Overhanging and submerged trees cause shading and nutrient enrichment will be removed from the lake margin along the Sanctuary. This will also allow more light to help aquatic plants and vegetation grow. Shade tolerant marginal plants on floating rafts will subsequently be installed to provide a better environment for birds and insects.
A native mixed hedgerow along the opposite side of the Sanctuary, parallel with the footpath, will be planted, which will also provide additional habitats for other forms of wildlife. This will involve the removal of bramble, scrub and tall herbs to facilitate planting and to restrict competition and encroachment from other species. The thinning and crown reduction of selected trees along the footpath will also be undertaken to increase light, which will allow the hedge to grow.
Heritage Trees and Historical Tree Avenues
The aim is to improve conditions for veteran trees and historical tree avenues through various measures. In addition the project will investigate the presence of Acute Oak Decline (AOD) on Tooting Common and implement measures to prevent future spread of the disease. It will also look to provide a degree of insulation from traffic by increasing the density of trees along the north side of Tooting Bec Road.
Conditions to individual veteran trees will be improved through soil amelioration and halo thinning of surrounding trees causing overcrowding. Conditions for the Garrad’s Road Avenue and Dr Johnson Avenue will be improved through the removal of deadwood, weight reduction and crown thinning and gaps in both avenues will be filled in with new planting. Samples will be collected from trees suspected of having Acute Oak Decline (AOD) and sent for analysis to confirm the presence of the disease on Tooting Common. The result of this analysis and the subsequent recommendations will feed into a bespoke tree strategy for Tooting Common developed as part of the heritage project.New trees will be planted and non-thriving and unsuitable species of newly planted trees will be replaces with one or two species of large ultimate size along the north side of Tooting Bec Road.
Horse Chestnut Avenue
Following the recent public consultation, the entire Horse Chestnut Avenue will be removed to allow for the re-establishment of a new avenue of trees of uniform species, age and size.
Works on site will be delivered in two phases. In the first phase all the trees and stumps will be removed and all surface roots will be grounded out to enable fresh tree pits to be excavated. The second phase will entail the delivery and planting operation of the replacement lime trees.
Built Heritage Restoration
There are a number of architectural features throughout the Common which, although not listed, are appreciated for their historical merit and context within the wider Common. Through the heritage project Wandsworth Council seeks to preserve and restore these features while at the same time increase the amenity of the landscape of Tooting Common. These include the Drinking Fountain, The Woodfield Project, The Lido Heritage Project and The Fossil Tree.
There is at present limited interpretation of Tooting Common available online and onsite and subsequently there is a lack of awareness around the history and heritage of the site. To increase intellectual access to the history and heritage of Tooting Common there will be a designated website (in 2017), a heritage trail and on-site interpretation.
- A heritage trail will be developed to enable visitors to explore the landscape of Tooting Common, discovering its biodiversity, history and stories as they navigate the space. The trail will be in the form of a downloadable App, which will be user-friendly and suitable for use on either smartphone or tablet.
- A website for the history and heritage of Tooting Common will be developed to communicate the natural and historical significance of the site to a wider audience.
- Three biodiversity interpretation panels on Tooting Common for acid grassland, lakeside habitats and trees will be installed to convey the ecological significance and fragility of the historic landscape and biodiversity of Tooting Common onsite.
The Common Story
The Common Story is an historical research project with the aim to explore the rich history of Tooting Common and to communicate the findings to a wider audience. During the initial phase of this project an historical consultant was commissioned to produce an evidenced historical report on Tooting Common. Local volunteers received training in historical research that enabled them to gain the skills to conduct smaller searches, which fed into this report.
At just under 20,000 words, this illustrated report spans the life of the Common, from before the Statutes of Merton in 1235 to the turn of the Millennium. A Historical Research Toolkit (link to toolkit) was also produced as part of this phase to assist volunteers when conducting independent research on Tooting Common.
Project volunteers will also undertake research in the second phase of the project with the aim to include more information in the historical research report, which will subsequently be turned into a local history publication. To this end a number of topics have been highlighted as in need to further research including:
- Post-war leisure and land use
- Ecological history
- Tragedy, vagrancy, and crime
- The tile kilns on the Duke of Bedford’s estate
As part of the project volunteers will also record oral testimonies and collate archival material and photographs.