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  • The committee visit to Burnham Beeches
    The Coal, Corn and Finance Committee

    ​Members of the Coal, Corn and Finance Committee which was involved in the purchase of Burnham Beeches in 1880

In addition to being important sites for wildlife, both Burnham Beeches and Stoke Common have long played a significant recreational role for both local people and visitors from farther afield.

The landscape and habitats of today were created by management techniques stretching back centuries; in years past, both areas also provided fuel, food and grazing land for livestock. When this management declined, small shrubs and trees grew, resulting in habitat change and the loss of some species. Today both sites are managed as nature reserves and public open spaces.

History of Burnham Beeches

Burnham Beeches covers 220 hectares (540 acres) and is located in South Buckinghamshire, around 25 miles from London. Originally for sale as “land suitable for the erection of superior residences”, the Beeches was bought by the City of London Corporation in 1880 to protect it as a public open space and wildlife reserve.

There has probably been woodland on the site since the retreat of the last ice age, but today’s landscape was created by people. One of the three Scheduled Ancient Monuments on the reserve shows that the area was inhabited as early as the Iron Age. Today Burnham Beeches is characterised by a diverse mixture of ancient woodland, wood pasture, coppice, ponds and streams, grassland, mire and heathland. The site’s most prominent features are the veteran Beech and Oak pollarded trees which provide a stable habitat for many rare and endangered deadwood species. Further details are on our wildlife and nature page.

In 1942 most of the wooded area and a large part of East Burnham Common was requisitioned by the War Department. Further areas were taken a year later. Burnham Beeches became a vehicle reserve depot where military vehicles of all types were stored in preparation for the D-Day landings.

Further information about the history of Burnham Beeches is available in the Historical Trail leaflet (2mb).

History of Stoke Common

On 31 October 2007, ownership of Stoke Common SSSI, which lies in southern Buckinghamshire between the villages of Stoke Poges and Fulmer, was transferred to the City of London.

The common covers an area of 80 hectares and contains the largest remnant of Buckinghamshire’s once extensive heathland. Created by a combination of poor, acidic soils and land management (including grazing) that keeps the vegetation open, it plays an important role in providing habitats for some very rare plants, animals and insects that are quite different from those of grassland and woodlands. Heathland is one of the rarest habitats in Britain. Further details are on our wildlife and nature page.

Before 1810 Stoke Common consisted of 480 acres of open common land on which villagers had rights to cut turf for fuel, to gather heather and bracken and to graze their animals. When the common was enclosed in 1810 all common rights were lost and replaced by a ‘poor fuel allotment’, whereby villagers could take fuel from 200 acres. Ultimately this was superseded by a Coal Club and all rights to collect fuel were lost. Administration and ownership passed through the Parish Council, followed by South Buckinghamshire District Council in 1993 and finally to the City of London in 2007.

The common is of great value to local people who prize the open aspect and wilderness feel to the site and use it for quiet recreational activities such as walking, bike riding and horse riding.