National Highways volunteers join the Society in the Surrey Hills

Bees, butterflies and birds……

Earlier this year we offered to organise a volunteering day for our team at National Highways, unaware at the time of the logistical challenges and post covid wait lists that would follow. Fast forward six months and we have just spent the most incredible day with representatives from the Surrey Hills Society (both the Chairman, Gordon Jackson, and the Project and Volunteer Co-ordinator, Christa Emmett) measuring hedgerows and identifying butterflies whilst being educated on conservation, species and wildlife.

From the outset the Surrey Hills Society responded promptly, providing all the information that we requested, and offered to put together a day that factored in everyone’s needs. On the day itself we had a welcome briefing from the Chairman of the Society before making our way to the footpaths of the Surrey Hills. And wow – what a view!

The scenery was stunning. Absolutely spectacular and had the feeling of being both completely unspoilt but yet cared-for. It was so refreshing to see the endless open countryside with wonderful views, incredible trees and signs of wildlife enjoying the day as much as we were. And what was more was the silence. No sounds of cars or phones anywhere and such a welcome break from our hectic office days!

Split into two groups, our first task was to take part in the Great British Hedgerow Survey. Equipped with guides, diagrams and cane sticks to help us with accurate measuring, we analysed sections of hedgerows, identifying plant varieties, measuring height and depth, noting down any large gaps and answering multiple questions to help guide future conservation work. The Surrey Hills team explained how important the hedgerows are for food, shelter and access routes, with many species wholly dependant on them for their survival. We learnt a great deal about the difference types of species, both plants and animals, that make up a seemingly common hedgerow.

 

After a picnic lunch, we walked a section of the Leith Hill Greenway, a 15km multi-user, off-road route which links Box Hill with Surrey’s highest point, Leith Hill. At the same time, equipped with guides we were asked to spot and identify any butterflies we encountered enroute, of which there were many. Such data-gathering is critical to assessing the health of the rare butterfly population and the information we recorded would help the Society to plan future butterfly conservation activities.

 

We all have busy jobs, stressful and demanding at times, but left feeling calm and collected, having enjoyed an informative and fun day, thanks to our fabulous representatives from the Surrey Hills Society. It is true when they say that the Surrey Hills are open to all and they left a strong impression. We felt humbled when we learnt about the incredible work that the Society carries – out, engaging with all members of the community and caring for this precious countryside so that it can be enjoyed by everyone.

Some people may mistakenly believe those managing the nation’s motorways wouldn’t be the first to appreciate the nature and beauty of our landscapes, but that misconception could not be further from the truth. Indeed, it has long been a key priority for National Highways to manage the balance between the safety and convenience of those using our roads with the preservation of the landscapes they pass through. This trip highlighted the need for us to continue to prioritise that important work.

A huge thank you to all and we will be back to plant hedgerows in the Spring! We couldn’t have had a better-organised, more successful day.

National Highways 16 August 2022

NAS Family Fun Day at Clandon Wood

 

Christa Emmett, our Project and Volunteer Coordinator and Ash Greening joined ten families supported by the National Autistic Society Surrey Family Support Team at Clandon Woods on Monday 22nd August.

 

There were lots of fun activities for the 19 children who attended including the ‘Where do I live’ magnetic board game supplied by Christa and Ash.

It was a day to explore nature in the reserve and the children were set the ‘matchbox challenge’ (no matches were used!) to find items of interest that they could bring back and share with others. Some of the finds were beautiful including a heart shaped stone.

The children enjoyed watching the wildlife on the ponds and the various insects and animals nestling alongside the planting and hedgerow. The children were fascinated by the bird life including a couple of birds of prey in the sky above.

The children could then occupy themselves back at the spacious Pavilion with panoramic views of the reserve. They could make Pom Pom sensory balls, Salt Jars, stone painting and friendship bracelets. The Surrey Hills Society provided colouring pages of animals and a guide book of what is available in the Surrey Hills.

All the parents commented on how relaxed and happy the children were in this peaceful environment. It was also lovely to see how the siblings worked together harmoniously. The parents were able to relax, talk to other parents and drink coffee. It was a positive experience all round.

 

Simon Ferrar from Clandon Wood told us how much he enjoyed seeing the families enjoying the facilities and the nature reserve. It fits perfectly with the ethos of encouraging families and young people to enjoy all that Surrey has to offer!

 

 

 

NAS and their families hope to visit again soon and would be happy to visit any other great facilities in Surrey. If you are interested, you may contact them at surrey.familysupport@nas.org,uk.

Mandy Elton

Family Support Coordinator, National Autistic Society

Guildford’s “Kernow Stone”

In a grassy corner at the top of The Mount overlooking Guildford is a memorial stone. It is called the “Kernow Stone” – but why is it there and what is the background to its name?

The story begins in 1496. After disagreements regarding new regulations for the tin-mining industry, King Henry VII suspended the operation and privileges of the Cornish stannaries, a major part of the county’s economy. These privileges, which included exemption from certain royal and local taxes, had been granted under a deal with Edward I in 1305. With Scotland threatening to invade England the King levied an extraordinary series of financial demands on his subjects, a burden which fell more heavily on Cornwall than most areas.

The people of Cornwall were incited into armed revolt with the supposed aim of removing the two servants of the king considered responsible for his taxation policies, Cardinal John Morton and Sir Reginald Bray.

An army some 15,000 strong marched towards Devon, attracting support in the form of provisions and recruits as they went. In Devon support for the rebellion was far lower than in Cornwall. Entering Somerset, however, they were joined by James Touchet, the seventh Baron Audley who as a member of the nobility with military experience was gladly received and acclaimed as their leader. The rebels continued towards London, marching via Salisbury and Winchester.

When the King learned of the close approach of the West Country rebels to London, and of their strength, he diverted his main army of 8,000 men under Lord Daubeny to meet them. Daubeny’s army camped on Hounslow Heath on 13 June and the next day a detachment of 500 of his spearmen clashed with the rebels near Guildford. Until then, the rebel army had met virtually no armed opposition, but neither had they gained significant numbers of new recruits since passing through Somerset.

Instead of approaching London directly they skirted to the south believing they would gain popular support from Kent. Leaving Guildford they moved via Banstead to Blackheath, an area of high ground south-east of London, which they reached on 16 June. No Kentish uprising materialised. Indeed, forces of Kentish men had been mobilised against them under loyalist nobles. The King had now mustered a large army in London so the outlook for the rebels was grim. There was much dismay and disunity among the rebels on Blackheath and thousands of desertions from the insurgency that night.

The Battle of Deptford Bridge (also known as Battle of Blackheath) took place on 17 June 1497. The King’s forces were deployed to surround the Blackheath high ground where the rebel army had camped and where its greater part was still positioned. Lord Daubeny attacked along the main road from London, crossing Deptford Bridge and taking it from the rebels. He then led the attack up into the rebels’ main position on the heath. So bold was his leadership that he became separated, surrounded by the enemy, and temporarily captured. The rebels could have killed him, but actually let him go unhurt. Overwhelmingly outnumbered, surrounded, poorly trained and equipped and lacking cavalry, their fight was now hopeless. They were routed. Their leaders were captured and subsequently executed.

In 1997, a commemorative march named Keskerdh Kernow (Cornish: “Cornwall marches on”) retraced the original route of the rebels from St. Keverne to Blackheath to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Cornish Rebellion. A statue depicting the Cornish leaders was unveiled at St. Keverne and commemorative plaques were unveiled at Guildford and on Blackheath.

A visit to this memorial is included in a Guildford Walkfest event being hosted by Surrey Hills Society on Friday 16th September. Details are on the SHS website “Events” page and on the Walkfest website www.guildfordwalkfest.co.uk  Why not join us to see the stone for yourself?

 

A special visit to Horsley Towers – home of Ada Lovelace

The area around the town of Guildford in the Surrey Hills is recognised as one of the top technology centres in Europe. It hosts companies such as EA Games, is home to the University of Surrey which is leading the way with 5G technology and in the University main square stands a statue of Enigma Code breaker and Guildfordian, Alan Turing. What is less well known is that the person recognised as the first computer programmer in the world was also from this area – and a very famous lady she was too!

Ada Lovelace was born in 1815, daughter to the infamous poet Lord Byron and wealthy heiress Annabella Milbanke. She was an extremely talented mathematician and writer who collaborated with Charles Babbage on his work creating the first mechanical general purpose computer. She was the first to recognise that the machine had applications beyond pure calculations and to publish the first algorithm intended to be carried out by this machine. The first modern widely used computer language was named in her honour – ADA.

Ada married William King-Noel, 1st Earl of Lovelace and they lived for many years at Horsley Towers in West Horsley, just outside Guildford. This is an extraordinary Tudorbethan fashioned building, designed by the same architect who created the Houses of Parliament – Charles Barry. It is now a hotel, conference centre and wedding venue.

Surrey Hills Society members were recently treated to a fascinating talk on Ada Lovelace by local historian, Roger Price. This was followed by a tour of the garden before returning for lunch on the terrace. After lunch we were able to access the exquisitely decorated family chapel.
It is amazing to think that a local Surrey Hills resident helped lead the way to modern computer technology. In fact, Ada Lovelace is known as ‘the mother of computing’.

 

From Quarry to Recreation Space

The UK quarrying industry is one of the oldest industries in the country and for hundreds of years was an integral part of our industrial heritage. Several formerly active quarries in Surrey have now been transformed into conservation areas and recreational facilities.

Tice’s Meadow Nature Reserve, a 150 acre site near Farnham and former quarry, has recently come under the ownership of Surrey County Council with funding support from several other councils. Designated a Site of Nature Conservation Interest (SNCI), it is one of the best bird watching sites in Surrey.

 

While the old chalk quarry and lime kilns at Betchworth ceased production in the 1960s and is now a stunning chalk grassland site rich in flora managed by the Surrey Wildlife Trust. Nearby Buckland Park Lake, a 100-acre site between Reigate and Dorking, is an interesting case study of major quarry transformation.

A fascinating conversation with Dominic Sanders, Managing Director at Buckland Estate, which owns Buckland Park Lake, highlighted the challenges in transforming what was a major supplier to the national glass sand market into a wonderful outdoor recreational space.

The “Folkestone beds” along the foot of the North Downs contain some of the purest silica sand deposits in the country. Its low metal content makes it useful in a range of industries including glass and foundry casting. At its peak Buckland Sand & Silica Co. Ltd, owned by the Sanders family since 1925, had up to 15% of the national sand market. The sand had interesting uses from casting the propellers of the Queen Mary through to the moonscapes on the set of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey.

Dominic explained why the change of use. “The advent of plastic bottles and the offshoring of much of the foundry industry put the demand for silica sand into gradual decline.” Quarrying ceased at Buckland Park Lake in the late 1980s, although it served as the processing plant for sand extracted from nearby Tapwood until 2014.

A decision had to be made about the Buckland site’s future use. The size and easy access to the A25 offered various opportunities, but of course a key issue was planning consent within the green belt. As quarries are tempting but highly dangerous places to swim, supervised swimming was one option. In 2018 the planners agreed to provide access to the public, including water sports, refreshments and other facilities. The development, like many others, was hindered by Covid and finally opened in May 2021. Our Society’s Chairman’s day brought it to the attention of many of our members in July 2021.

There are plenty of ongoing challenges. “Higher footfall means a better return on the large investment, but overcrowding would spoil the ambience,” said Dominic. Do they think they have succeeded? “Overall, we are very pleased with the results. Although we have had far more visitors than we expected we believe we have been successful in not overcrowding the site. However, we are trying to remain honest about how much lies ahead and what we must do to achieve the standards to which we aspire for our visitors.” And what about Tapwood on the other side of the A25? According to Dominic it is unlikely it will ever be suitable for general public enjoyment due to its topography and location.

Glassmaking in the Surrey Hills

It’s always intriguing to discover how and why certain industries rose to prominence in a particular area, such as glassmaking in Chiddingfold. During the reign of Elizabeth I there were already around 11 glassmakers on Chiddingfold Green, all benefitting from the local geology; the ground being exceptionally sandy while local woodlands provided plenty of firewood for the furnaces.

The industry was however still small scale in the 1500s, it took an influx of Huguenot refugees for it to take off in a big way. Huguenot glassmakers brought with them new technologies and techniques including the production of coloured glass. One refugee, Jean Carre, was determined to make window glass in the Weald. It was only once he received a licence from Queen Elizabeth I to produce glass for glazing similar to that made in France that the industry flourished.

What then caused its decline? Firstly, local inhabitants complained that the furnaces were causing a nuisance, though this was possibly more about the unpopularity of the foreigners who owned the furnaces than the industry itself. Secondly, in 1615 King James I prohibited the burning of wood for glassmaking as it was uneconomical and the wood could be used more profitably in other industries. However, this was not before Chiddingfold glass was used in famous buildings such as St Stephen’s Chapel in Westminster and St George’s Chapel in Windsor.

Not surprisingly, the tradition in glass has continued to this day though in different forms. One local artist, Rachel Mulligan is based near Godalming specialising in stained glass and runs classes as well as producing artworks for exhibitions and working to commission.

Another, Amanda Blair, works from her garden studio using blown sheet glass and other flat glass to create stained glass windows for ecclesiastical and secular settings. Her current project is to create a large rose window for All Saints Church in Fleet. She has also just relaunched her ever popular classes following a 2 year break.

 

 

 

Perhaps one of the most well-known is Adam Aaronson considered one of the UK’s leading glass artists.  At his studio in West Horsley, he specialises in free-blown glass, runs beginners’ courses in glassblowing and designs and makes a range of interior design accessories. Visitors to the studio are welcome Tuesday through Sunday.

 

 

 

 

 

Given that many of these artists run specialist courses in glassmaking hopefully this wonderful art form will be very much kept alive and enjoyed by future generations.

Godstone Caves

Godstone is a delightful village with links back to Ethelred the Unready. Underneath the North Downs is Godstone mine, also referred to as Godstone Caves. In the 17th century mining began and the flintstone that was extracted was used for buildings and furnaces because of its extremely fire-resistant properties. It gained the name firestone from its unusual qualities. During the Industrial Revolution flintstone became recognised as a prime material for construction and the mine was expanded. One of the mine’s advantages was its close proximity to the railway and London. Some of London’s oldest buildings contain stone mined at Godstone.

The mine is made up of 5 different networks, the Roman Road Series, Main Series, Sawmills, Whitefield Quarry and Jones, but these were eventually made into one which became known as the main series over the course of the 18th century. Together they comprise 7 miles of tunnels. Marks on the walls were carved out by the yokes of oxen dragging carts around the mines and in the 19th century metal tracks were laid down as the process became industrialised.

The quarries provided a useful income for their owners, the Clayton family, but when more durable stones were found further afield firestone lost some of its market value. However, the mine continued to be worked and hearthstone was uncovered. This is a soft sandstone. In the mid 19th century fashion changed and people wanted to whiten their doorsteps, window ledges and hearths and used the hearthstone to do this as it left a white deposit once dried. Godstone mine supplied many hundreds of thousands of tons of hearthstone to retailers, many of whom were in London.

As hearthstone continued to be mined in the east of the county in the early 20th century, at Godstone some parts of the mine were completely altered and subsequently used for growing mushrooms by French mushroom growers. Compost was laid out in long piles called ridge beds, the walls were painted with limewash to disinfect the mines and doors and barriers were put in place to control the ventilation. The humidity needed to be carefully controlled and pipes were installed to distribute water to the various parts of the mines to keep the mushrooms in perfect growing condition.

In between the great wars the mines became derelict with parts of the mines used for storage and an unofficial air raid shelter during WW2. The Home Office was aware of the existence of the caves which being 80 to 200 feet below the surface, covered with trees above ground providing natural camouflage against air attack and containing natural springs for drinking water made ideal air raid shelters. It appears however that, for whatever reason, the mines were not authorised by the government for use by Londoners but locals certainly took advantage of them as a shelter during WW2.

The mine is now owned by the Wealden Cave & Mine Society and they very occasionally allow guided tours of the cave network. There are also plans to restore some of the network that has collapsed.

The Fourth Agricultural Revolution?

Forty per cent of the Surrey Hills is designated as agricultural land, and fascinating technological changes are afoot in the world of arable farming so it’s likely some of them may be coming to our own AONB.

The first agricultural revolution took place when humans first started farming about 12,000 years ago, the second was the end of feudalism and subsequent reorganisation of farmland and the third took place in the 1950s and 1960s with the advance of heavy machinery, fertilisers, pesticides and new high yield crops. The fourth revolution refers to expected changes with the arrival of new technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) poised to solve some of farming’s current challenges.

These solutions could not only help with sustainable food production but also in the fight against climate change. Currently, most farmers decide when to drill, spray or fertilise their crop in ways that would still be recognised by their grandparents or great grandparents. They can only walk a small proportion of their fields and decide when to act based on what they can see, experience and gut instinct.

Rowan Duckworth of the Small Robot Company explains how companies like theirs are using AI to help farmers make more informed and precise decision

Its vision of ‘Per Plant Farming’ uses its intelligence robot, Tom, to accurately image every plant in the field before Wilma, the artificial intelligence interface, provides valuable insights such as crop count, crop biomass assessment, and weed detection. The data from Wilma is integrated with traditional farm equipment to produce highly accurate sprayer maps.

 

 

The Small Robot Company is also designing its own non-chemical weeding robot to reduce the use of synthetic weed killers. This gives farmers an important tool against rising levels of herbicide resistant weeds such as black grass. It also allows classification and targeting of beneficial weeds to be left in situ, building soil structure and fertility and providing obvious advantages to pollinators and natural predators.

So watch out for the first robots to tend crops in the Surrey Hills near you.  If you see one, you may well have read about it first here!