Update on Bitchet Common, Sevenoaks

Bitchet Common is a Site of Special Scientific Interest in Sevenoaks.


Once home to rare species like the nightjar, Bitchet Common is now in need of maintenance to bring it back to its former glory. We spoke to Andrew Willmore from the Kent Wildlife Trust to find out more about this historic stretch of ground.


Can you tell me about the area of Bitchet Common – why is it being restored?

Bitchet Common is a very special place. Once it was a large lowland heath, one of the rarest environments on earth, supporting a variety of wildlife, including some endangered species. Bitchet Common is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and ecological surveys showed Bitchet Common would benefit from the removal of invasive rhododendron, cherry laurel, birch, and bracken encroachment.

During the reign of Elizabeth I, Bitchet Common came into the ownership of the Sackville family of Knole. The site is managed by Sevenoaks District Council and these works are being delivered in conjunction with Kent Wildlife Trust.

Over the years, there have been changes to the way the Common has been used, and non-native plants have become widespread leading to a decline in this rare heathland habitat. Paths and bridleways have also become overgrown, making Bitchet less accessible and enjoyable for people. However, once the improvements are complete, the Common will once again support a wide variety of plants and animals, and become a place for people to enjoy.


What work is being done as part of the restoration?

We are restoring five-and-a-half hectares of heathland – equivalent to 11 full-size football pitches. This initially involved the removal of invasive rhododendron and birch trees. The disturbance exposed the seeds from native heathland plants, which have laid dormant for years, allowing them to grow. Our biggest challenge now is managing the bramble and bracken that is returning. We are using a variety of methods including hand-cutting, machine cutting, and bruising in order to see which is the most effective for the site.


Are there any special or rare sights on the Common?

Lowland heathland, such as Bitchet Common, is rarer than rainforest. In the UK, we only have 16% of the area remaining that existed in 1800. Whilst the Common is still home to green and great spotted woodpeckers, buzzards, sparrowhawks, small mammals and reptiles, their habitat is at risk without ongoing management.

We have been monitoring the site for increases in the range of plant species growing there, and also the vigour of both heather and bracken. 14 positive heathland indicator species were recorded across the commons in 2020, compared to only six in 2019. Sheep’s sorrel, heath bedstraw, and cat’s ear were all found in over 20% of the survey area having not been recorded in 2019.


What is the final vision for the Common? When will the restoration be complete?

The final vision for Bitchet Common is that it supports a more diverse range of plants that are typical of heathland areas and ultimately getting a mixed age structure of heather. These first few years of work will be completed this summer, however, landscapes are dynamic and require onward management.

The Bitchet Common restoration is part of the wider Sevenoaks Greensand Commons Project, working across eight commons in Westerham, Sevenoaks and Seal. The project is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Enovert Community Fund, and other partners funding.


For more information or to find out about volunteering please contact Andrew Willmore, Sevenoaks Greensand Commons Project Manager on 07720 093128 or email [email protected]. Find out more about the Bitchet Common restoration and its place in the Commons Project by visiting the Sevenoaks District Council website.

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