A new Chairman for the Surrey Hills AONB Board

Late in 2019, the Surrey Hills AONB appointed a new Chairman to replace David Wright who had retired following the local elections last year.  We are delighted to be working with Heather Kerswell as she steps into the role and drives the AONB forward.  Although she has been trying to meet many of the Surrey Hills people and get to know more about what we do, she has clearly been hampered by the current disruption.  It is therefore with great pleasure that we give Heather the opportunity to contribute to this e-newsletter.

Well done to Surrey Hills Society for sending its newsletter electronically!  A sign of the times…..

It was a huge privilege when the Board of Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty invited me in December last year to become its independent chair, helping to bring together the Surrey Hills family – the Society, Enterprises and the Trust Fund.  It is a privilege because I get to work with the small but extremely expert and enthusiastic staff (many currently co-ordinating local crisis help), with a Board of councillors and other experts all giving us their time and advice, all driven by a common purpose, with the chairs of the ‘family’, and with the fantastic volunteers whose work is crucial in turning ideas into reality.

Some of the things we all want to achieve are:

•   To extend the AONB, agreed locally in 2013 but still with Natural England for decision

•   To reinforce the greenness of the AONB, reverse the decline in nature and help tackle the climate crisis

•   To enable sustainable visiting

•   To strengthen community, sustainable prosperity and a sense of locality

•   To work with other protected landscapes around London on a joint vision for the region

I will be putting my time and skills to work to help us make progress on all these fronts.  By way of background I am a geographer, so imbued with Wealden geology, professionally a planner, starting as Waverley’s conservation officer, moving to strategic planning in London and the southeast and then serving as Mole Valley council’s chief executive for twelve years.  Since retiring I have been working with property based charities.

So how can we view the ambitions of the Surrey Hills family in the current virus crisis, when so many people are dealing not only with isolation but with danger and bereavement?  Are there some glimmers of hope?  Maybe we can all observe changes which could be influential in future:

•    We have adjusted to travelling less – working at home, meetings by Zoom, conversations by Facetime, schooling via IPads, shopping on-line. Could this continue post crisis and lead to a permanent reduction in road traffic passing through the Surrey Hills?

•   Will visitors come by public transport or if car-borne look to stay over and walk or cycle from their stop-over place?

•   Surrey Hills Enterprises have put on the website a list of local produce available for delivery.  We are certainly discovering and using more local suppliers – Mandira’s Kitchen and Hampton Estates for instance have been a lifeline – and we intend to go on post crisis.  Delivery of Surrey Hills produce could become much more important commercially; it helps the environment and brings a quality product to your door.

•   Everyone is feeling deprived of access to nature and open spaces.  This will surely bring a crusade to reverse decline and a search for ways to intensify the wildness of our natural places.

•   We are leaving the European Community and have a chance with legislation progressing now to set our own standards and bring nature more firmly into the equation in giving grants to the farmers and landowners on whose skill and goodwill we all rely for managing our green areas.

And we will never again take for granted the things which can only be experienced live – like hearing church bells, singing in a choir or walking in the Surrey Hills.

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