Henfield Common is an expanse of flowered meadow grass, boggy reed bed and woodland crossed by a raised causeway footpath from the village to the adjoining Brighton Road – perhaps the boggy area was once man-deep.
It is popular with visiting families on a country outing, with ramblers and with dog owners most of whom are meticulously conscientious about their pets. The far end of the common has been home to Henfield cricket since the 1700’s. The 1950’s Memorial Playing Field (the village tribute to Henfield men and women who served their country in the 2nd World War) hosts football and the many family/friends groups who happily gather on it. The days of grazing livestock on the common are sixty years or more past. Now, few ‘commoners’ remain to enjoy their rights. Apart from important maintenance and the biennial ‘Village Fayre’, nature’s calendar dictates events.
As winter’s New Year winds blast the leaf litter beneath the trees, the peaty soil is patched by clustered spikes of green snowdrop leaves. Soon a mass of squat white flower heads bow and nod as you pass. The chiff-chaff chants its March arrival from Africa to rival the song of robin and wren. April bluebells spread their carpet in the shadow of the trees. Nuthatch and tree creeper scale gnarled oaks seeking hidden insects in the creviced bark. Pigeons scatter clatter-winged from branches. On a sunny day, brimstone butterflies flit along the woodland edge; the male (yellow as butter) alert for aerial combat with competing male or excitedly wooing the paler female. When a stiff breeze from the east persists, painted ladies flutter over from the continent to parade the length of the common as they travel west. Some years a rarer migrant arrives, the clouded-yellow.
Late May floods the marsh area with rich purple orchids and the pink ragged robin; dragonflies hawk across the reeds; demoiselle damselflies dance above the stream, sunshine glinting the blue of their wings. Walk the raised causeways late on a summer evening when dusk has settled, fix your eyes on the bank and you should be lucky enough to see a minute green/yellow light gleam among the grass stems; a lady glow-worm parading for a lover. In the warmth of an August day, slow-worms slither (not so slow either unless you are quiet footed). Common blue and small copper butterflies sip nectar from the yellow flowered fleabane – even the bush cricket happily straddles it, basking in the sun. As the days wane and autumn takes over, fungi fidget and thrive; bright red fly agaric, shaggy ink cap, and the earth ball lying amongst the fallen leaves like a tiny lost ball. Squirrels have stripped the hazel nuts, acorns abound beneath the oaks, puddles grow wider and the ground oozes to each footfall. But be it winter wellies or summer sandals, the common is there for you to enjoy.
To download a map of Henfield Common click here.