The Common was not always wooded, and much of the area was formerly open heathland used as common grazing land. It has not been grazed for many years and secondary woodland has grown over much of the area. The significance of the variety of habitats has resulted in the Common being designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in 1955 by the Nature Conservancy (now English Nature), the statutory body which enables and promotes nature conservation in England. A programme to fell tracts of secondary woodland has led to various public protests. In spite of the SSSI designation, the A3 Esher bypass was built in 1974 through the middle of Esher Common in 1974. As compensation, approximately 90 acres of "exchange land" became part of the Commons. The Ledges were added to West End Common, and an area including Middle Pond became part of Esher Common.
Esher Common contains several ponds and lakes, the largest of which is Black Pond. This was once used as a water supply for the nearby Claremont Landscape Garden now owned and managed by the National Trust. The main piece of high ground is Round Hill, close to Copsem Lane.
There are parking facilities on the A307 (old Portsmouth Road) and the A244 (Copsem Lane).
West End Common includes The Ledges, which is a bank of high ground alongside the River Mole.
The common shares the parking facilities on the A307, and can also be accessed from the direction of West End.