Heathland & Acid Grassland

The free draining, nutrient-poor soils, of the high ground at Keston Common support, heathland and acid grassland habitats. In the UK these habitats have declined by 84% since the 19th century and the plants and animals they support have become rare. The heathland habitats at Keston were maintained by animals which grazed the Commons until the 1930s. When grazing stopped, birch and oak trees invaded the heathland and secondary woodland started to develop. Both heathland and acid grassland are now being restored in some areas. Typical plants of heathland include heather and bilberry while the acid grassland supports lichens and plants such as fine-leaved grasses, field woodrush and heath bedstraw. Lizards bask in sunny places in these habitats and rare solitary bees dig holes in bare soil where they will lay their eggs.
WavyHairGrassred.jpg Heathbedstraw heather FieldWoodrush Commonlizardred Tawny mining bee

Photos: Heather, Heath Bedstraw, Common Lizard, Tawny Mining Bee, Bilberry, Field Woodrush, Wavy Hair Grass

Ravensbourne Meadows

A rich variety of plants grow in the meadows near the River Ravensbourne. The soil on the higher ground is well drained, but becomes more clay rich and retains water in the lower-lying areas. Plants of the dry meadows include ox-eye daisy and nectar-rich black knapweed, while in the damp meadows marsh marigold and ragged robin grow. The meadows buzz with insects during summer days, while in the evenings pipistrelle bats feed along the meadow edges.

Ox eye daisy Marsh marigold

Photos: Black Knapweed with 6-Spot Burnet Moth and beetle, Marsh Marigold, Ragged Robin, Small Skipper Butterfly on Black Knapweed, Ox-eye daisy

Veteran Trees

Ancient trees mark the boundary between Keston Common and Ravensbourne Meadows and are also found in other parts of Ravensbourne Open Space. Many animals live in and on the trees and the dead wood is a valuable habitat for fungi and invertebrates.


The ponds are rich in plant life, invertebrates and fish.  Plants in the pond include yellow water lilies, white water lilies, water moss and algae, while brooklime and water figwort grow in places at the edges.  The algae of the ponds have been recorded on and off since Victorian times but in 2009 a species new to the UK was found in the middle pond.  The algae are food for many small pond animals including water boatmen and water fleas which are the prey of carnivorous insects such as the larvae of different species of dragonfly.  Fish such as tench and carp feed on the invertebrates and a heron is often seen catching some of the small fish.

Red darter dragonflyWhite waterlilyGrey heronWater figwortWater moss

Photos: Red Darter Dragonfly,  White Water Lily, Grey Heron, Brooklime, Water Figwort, Water Moss

The River Ravensbourne

The River Ravensbourne, flows from the spring at Caesar’s Well, through the ponds, then via the wet alder woodland of Ravensbourne Open Space into Padmall Wood. Mosses, liverworts and ferns grow along its banks.

Padmall Wood

This semi-natural ancient woodland consists mainly of sweet chestnut which has been coppiced for hundreds of years. The ground flora is very rich and includes bluebells and wood sorrel in the drier areas, water mint and yellow pimpernel in the damp areas.  Wood mice and bank voles live in the woods and birds nest in the scrub. The sunny timber yard is important for reptiles and toads.

ToadWoodmouseYellow pimpernellSweetchestnut

Photos: Wood Mouse, Toad, Sweet Chestnut, Yellow Pimpernel

Secondary Woodland

Birch-oak woodland, with some beech, has developed on the heathland since the 1940s. The trees survive in the nutrient poor soil partly because of the presence of mycorrhizal fungi. These grow around the tree rootlets; their hyphae spread into the soil for long distances and absorb water and phosphates, some of which are transferred to the trees. In turn the trees provide the mycorrhizal fungi with sugars. Many of the mycorrhizal fungi are associated with particular tree species, such as fly agaric which lives in association with birch. Also found with birch is the birch polypore fungus which kills these trees, leaving space for the more slowly developing oaks.


Scrub is continually trying to encroach the meadow areas and so is regularly cut back, but when it is cut, the edges are scalloped to increase the length of scrub boundary because its flowers and fruit are a very important food source for many insects, other invertebrates, small mammals and birds. It is also important because it provides shelter, hibernation and nesting sites.


Photo: Hedgehog.

Pine Woodland

Scots pine trees were planted in some parts of the common during the early 20th century. These have since self seeded and in some areas are shading out more delicate native plants.  Some of the fungi at Keston are associated with pine and some birds such as goldcrest are found amongst the taller trees.