Bookham Commons, in Surrey, South East England, is an ancient expanse of woodland, grassland, scrubland and ponds. It has an abundance of wildlife and has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by Natural England.
A visit here will allow you to walk peacefully amongst the 250-500 year old oak trees and picnic by serene pond life. Let the children follow the activity trail and play in the natural play area and watch out for many different butterflies and birds.
A Brief History of Bookham Commons
Bookham Commons has a very diverse history. It has been used since the Stone Age when wild boar, wolves and bears roamed around. The Commons was mentioned in the Doomsday Book and Henry VIII also rode through, taking wood needed to build his nearby Nonsuch Palace.
Historically, a ‘Commons’ allowed public access to the land rather than just the lord or landowner. Therefore, people relied on using the Bookham Commons for their livestock, fishing and wood collecting.
By the late 1800s, Victorian society took advantage of the nearby rail station to make day trips from London, leaving behind the bustling city. The Commons then saw the Second World War being occupied by troops, lorries, tanks, guns and bomb craters (now small ponds).
Since the 1920s, Bookham Commons has been owned and managed by the National Trust, conserving the history and landscape for both visitors and wildlife to appreciate this precious site.
Video of Bookham Commons
Here’s a brief video of Bookham Commons if you wanted to have a quick view of what it is like there in Autumn.
Top 3 Things to See and Do in Bookham Commons
Butterfly spotting in Bookham Commons
There are 3 main species of butterflies to spot – the Purple Emperor, White Admiral and Silver-Washed Fritillary. The best time to see them is on a warm sunny day in July so bring your camera and binoculars!
You may have a high chance of seeing the butterflies on High Point Path and leading uphill to Hill Farm as well as near Mark Oak car park.
Bird watching in Bookham Commons
Bookham Commons is home to some rare and beautiful birds. It is one of the few places in Surrey where you can see the rare hawfinch. December to March would be the best time to see it eating sloes behind the railway station. You can also see or rather hear the beautiful birdsong of whitethroats, warblers, wrens, thrushes, robins and blackbirds.
The Isle of Wight pond in Bookham Commons houses the only heronry on open access land in Surrey. There are 15 nests at the time of writing where you can see parents and their young through a bird hide on the Upper Eastern Pond.
The peaceful bird hide will also allow you to catch a glimpse of wild ducks such as teal, shoveler, tufted duck and dabchick.
Bookham Commons Activity Trail
This is an easy trail with lots of different habitats to explore. The walk will take about 1.30hrs – 2hrs and is about 2.5 – 3 miles (4-4.8km) long. The National Trust website has a map and directions of the path to take starting at the Tunnel car park.
You’ll come across woodlands, ponds and wetlands along the way and then end with a natural play area, perfect for children to climb tree stumps and balance on logs. There are also picnic tables here for you to enjoy.
You can also take a shorter walking route from Tunnel Car Park if you are visiting with children or just prefer a shorter walk. This walk is just over 1.3 miles in total and will take you past all the ponds and also via the bird hide.
Map of the shorter walk at Bookham Commons below:
Types of birds you may see in Bookham Commons
You can expect to see a wide variety of birds at Bookham Commons. Here’s a list of few of them to look out for on your next visit:
Red Kite (Milvus milvus)
Reintroduced from Spain, thriving in Bookham Commons and are regarded as the ultimate scavenger.
Buzzard (Buteo buteo)
With a wing span of over 1 meter, the buzzard looks and behaves like a small Eagle! They make a distinctive “mewing ” call.
Grey Heron (Arde cinerea)
Often seen wading in the ponds, Herons can also be seen hunting mice and frogs in grassland during the winter. In early spring time, they make large nests of twigs high up in the oak trees.
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
The most common duck, breeds in parks, on canals, lakes and seashores. They have a wide range of nest sites under bushes, in tree holes or near buildings.
Coot (Fulica atra)
Easily identified with its sooty grey body, black head and white bill. It breeds on lakes, and slow flowing rivers with ample vegetation as well as on open water. Their nest is formed of a pile of dead reeds at at the edge of the water, often fairly visible. Coots are very defensive and will swim menacingly at intruders and have been known to charge straight at them.
Moorhen (Gallinula chlorpus)
Identified by a red bill with yellow tip, this common bird breeds on smaller lakes, ponds and rivers with dense vegetation along the banks. It carries its tail high and jerks when walking.
Mute swan (Cygnus olor)
A huge white bird with a very long neck, it breeds on freshwater lakes and along coasts. It isn’t shy and can act quite aggressively. Males have territorial fights with wing splashing surges and long slides on the water.
Jay (Garrulus glandarius)
An intelligent member of the the crow family, this surprisingly shy woodland bird is the main distributor of acorns which grow into oak saplings at Bookhams commons.
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone)
An adaptable, clever and good all round scavenger, the crow is all black, solitary and without the white face patch and “trousers” of the similar looking rook.
Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)
As the name suggests, this bird originally came from North America. The distinct markings and widespread distribution make this an easily identifiable goose.
Little grebe (Aix sponsa)
The bold facial markings and white chest stripes distinguish this North American bird.
Tufted duck (Aythya fuligula)
A diving duck, widespread in winter, but only in recent years has it stayed longer to breed at Bookham Commons.
Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
Kingfishers can be found breeding in overhanding river banks and further downstream at Leatherhead. They can be seen in Bookham commons August onwards chasing small fish upstream as far as Little Bookham Street.
Teal (Anas crecca)
A shy, surface feeding duck that will take off quickly if startled and circle many times before landing. The male has a green band on its brown head.
Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna)
Usually coastal, these brightly marked ducks will visit inland waterways on their travels to and from the German coast.
Water rail (Rallus aquaticus)
Water rails are rare and difficult to see at Bookham Commons. National Trust requests that you let them know if you spot one of these in Bookham Commons.
Mandarin duck (Aix galericulata)
As the name suggest, this colorful introduction is from Asia and has a habit of the perching and nesting in trees.
Emperor Dragonfly (Anax imperator)
Large, aggressive, powerful and highflying, the males have a sky blue abdomen whilst females are predominantly green.
Banded demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)
A wonderful irridescent metallic blue damselfly with large spots on its wing that create a strange effect in flight. Females have plain wigns and their bodies are beautiful metallic green.
Borad bodies chaser (Libellula depressa)
The clue is in the name – this dragonfly has a wide body in proportion its length. The males are powder blue, and females are a yellow green. Both have dark spots at the wings base to distinguish them from the similar looking black tailed skimmer.
Source: National Trust information board inside the bird hide at Bookham Commons.
Opening Times, Accessibility and Facilities of Bookham Commons
Parking at Bookham Commons
Bookham Commons is free to go to and is open from dawn to dusk. You just need to pay for parking. There are 3 car parks:
Tunnel car park
This is the main car park and is free for National Trust members.
Otherwise, for non-members, it is £1.50 per hour for the first 2 hours;
£4 for upto 4 hours and
£6 for 5 hours or more (at the time of writing).
You have to pay by phone with ‘paybyphone’ and if you have the app, the area code is 803447 or phone 0330 060 4037.
Mark Oak Gate car park
Parking is free in Mark Oak Gate car park at Bookham Commons.
Hundred Pound Bridge also has free parking.
Facilities at Bookham Commons
There are no toilets or refreshments available at Bookham Commons but you can go to Great Bookham Village or Little Bookham where these are available.
Accesibility at Bookham Commons
The main bridled surfaced paths are wide and mostly level and are suitable for wheelchairs and prams.
Especially up to the bird hide at the Upper Eastern pond. There are of course many other footpaths but you may need walking boots as they can get muddy in wet weather. There are lots of benches for picnics or to just take in the breathtaking views.
How to Get to Bookham Commons
Getting to Bookham Commons by car
The address for Bookham Commons is Church Road, Great Bookham, Surrey.
The nearest postcode to the Tunnel car park is KT23 3LT so as you drive up Church Road, keep an eye out for the National Trust signs as well.
Getting to Bookham Commons by Train
The nearest station is Bookham Station and the Commons is right next to it (see ‘Getting to Bookham Commons by Foot below).
Getting to Bookham Commons by Bus
You can get the Countryliner 478 (Leatherhead-Guildford), Countryliner 479 (Epsom-Leatherhead-Guildford) or Ride Pegasus! AccessBus 622 (Epsom-Ashtead-Great Bookham) and get off at Bookham Station (see ‘Getting to Bookham Commons by Foot below).
Getting to Bookham Commons by Foot
From Bookham Station, walk just over a mile up the High Street, over the crossroads, up Church Road and then you’ll come to the Commons.