Surrey Hills Boundary Review – Update

In 2021, Natural England finally agreed to take on a review of the boundaries of the Surrey Hills AONB. For many years there had been talk of the need for a review – indeed the discussion was already ongoing when the Surrey Hills Society was established back in 2008! Our Surrey Hills AONB was only the second to be created and the boundaries which were agreed then were subject to significant debate amongst local councils and other influential bodies. Some excluded areas were subsequently given a degree of protection as Areas of Great Landscape Value (AGLV) but should probably have been included in the original designation.

This current review aims to redefine the boundaries by including areas which adjoined the 1958 boundaries but which can be shown to have equivalent (or indeed greater) landscape value that the already included parts. The map on the Surrey Hills AONB Boundary Review website highlights where these ‘Evaluation Areas’ are located.

It has been stated that this is a “once in a generation opportunity” for the boundaries to be reviewed and relocated. It is, therefore, very important that those who know the area best – residents such as yourselves with an interest in the Surrey Hills plus local councils, countryside organisations and charities or others with local knowledge – all play their part in providing the information required to make this review robust.

The review is ‘data driven’. Natural England has appointed consultants to undertake the data gathering and the emphasis is on ‘facts not emotions’. It is important that all the decisions taken can be justified on the basis of what makes the particular area a ‘special landscape’. The fact of it being ‘nice’ or ‘well used’ is not sufficient. The clue is in the title – Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – although there is an acknowledgement that all our landscapes are the result of human intervention over many centuries.

So, if you are able to use your local knowledge to highlight features, history, wildlife, biodiversity and all those other elements which add up to the term “outstanding”, then you should be contributing to the review by completing the “Call for Evidence” form on the review website. This stage of the process appears to be placing significant emphasis on the provision of photographs to support the written evidence so it is worth digging out pictures which you may have taken in recent times (few places look at their best on a grey winters day!).

Make sure that your local parish council or conservation charity is also getting involved and playing its part. Many already are but with the deadline for responses being at the end of January, it is worth checking that the Christmas or Covid disruptions haven’t caused them to miss the tight timelines for discussing and responding to the review.

The outcomes of this review will impact the Surrey Hills for many decades and will influence the degree of protection or development across the entire area. Remember that once land is defined as outside a ‘protected’ designation, it is far more vulnerable and once it has gone, it has gone forever. So don’t just think ‘it’s someone else’s problem’. Get involved and help to conserve the Surrey Hills and surrounding areas for future generations.

Surrey Hills Society joins the Surrey Green Social Prescribing Test and Learn Project

Surrey Heartlands Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is a GP-led organisation, responsible for planning and buying health services for the local population out of a budget of around £1.5 billion. Working with Surrey County Council, Surrey Heartlands CCG is one of seven national “test and learn” sites for Green Social Prescribing, which aims to connect people to the health benefits of nature and green spaces to improve mental health outcomes. More information is on the Healthy Surrey website.

The two-year project will review green interventions and work together with residents on new initiatives to assess effectiveness for a variety of health and wellbeing issues, including those surrounding people who experience health inequality.

Activities can include walking, cycling, community gardening and food-growing projects, and practical conservation tasks such as tree planting. For people who need help to get involved this could include supported visits to local green spaces, or waterways and other outdoor activities.

Part of the project includes working with a series of partners to identify the green opportunities already available in Surrey – the Society is involved in the consultation which includes health, district and borough councils, as well as voluntary community and faith sector organisations. The aim is to ensure that nature-based activities are easy to find and to develop new initiatives that are culturally relevant whilst helping the green sector become a more accessible place for our diverse population. Surrey Heartlands are also developing a quality standard which recognises good practice for Green Social Prescribing in Surrey.

The Society is naturally extremely supportive of this initiative and as the project develops over the next two years we hope to build on the initial research that we facilitated through the Into the Wild project. We are already working with a number of landowners and youth groups to encourage hedge planting through the Surrey Hills and we also see opportunities for Society volunteers to assist with green social prescribing opportunities such as guided walks and conservation activities.

Editors Note: The article “Social Prescribing – at local level” looks at how one medical centre in the area is putting these principles into practice.

Social Prescribing – at local level

In our newsletters, we always like to include articles by guest writers. To find out how Social Prescribing is being applied in practice, we sent one of our newsletter team along to her local surgery to find out more. The article below was put together by the team at Binscombe Medical Centre to describe their approach.

Patients contact our GP surgery for a huge variety of reasons.

There is not always a medication that we can prescribe to patients; some may already be on the maximum dose of their medication and some may have a clinical reason why they cannot be prescribed the most effective treatment, and there are some things that medication is just not appropriate for. In its place, there are lots of therapies that can be hugely beneficial, in a way that medication can never do.

At Binscombe Medical Centre, we recognise the connection between our physical, mental and social wellness and we are passionate about this holistic approach to health and wellbeing. We believe there is great value in taking regular exercise to help our patients stay well so, in 2017, we set up our weekly Walking For Health Group that takes place every Tuesday. The walks help improve mobility and are beneficial for patients struggling with respiratory conditions such as COPD and cardiac conditions. There are also great benefits to patients’ mental health and wellbeing due to the social connection of the walks. The human connection part of this is immeasurable and we have had many patients who came along because they had been feeling isolated or needed some social interaction. We have two distances of walk to cater for all abilities with more information on our website.

On a different venture, we are also in the process of setting up Farncombe Community Garden. This is a project which aims to benefit both patients and the local community. Gardening has a range of proven health benefits for everyone involved; for example, physical activity levels are increased, a sense of community is created and mental health can be improved.

All our health care professionals advocate outdoor exercise both for themselves and our patients, especially as we are located in one of the most beautiful parts of Surrey. It is often more applicable and more powerful than anything we can prescribe even when the issue feels insurmountable.

As well as these outdoor activities we also offer other non-medical therapies such as our GP Chaplain and we are looking into setting up a support group for parents who had a Lockdown Birth. More information on these and other initiatives can be found on our Binscombe Medical Centre website.

ZERO launches in Guildford

Carbon Zero Guildford have launched a new community space “ZERO” with a view to driving a community-led climate action plan. Promoting education and solutions for climate mitigation and adaptation, ZERO aims to be a vibrant town centre hub that brings together the work happening locally to help the borough of Guildford and its surrounding area to adapt to a changing planet.

The concept behind Zero is that only around 30% of Guildford’s emissions can be directly tackled by the borough or county council. The remaining 60-70% must be addressed through strategies aimed at reducing consumption, better energy management and waste reduction. Central to this plan is community cohesion; ZERO aims to bring together individuals, projects and organisations and offer resources and platforms for collaboration to enable greater benefits than each individual project alone.

The Society is delighted to be included as an exhibitor at ZERO and is strongly supportive of its aims. We believe that there are opportunities for mutual cooperation, particularly in relation to the Society’s key objects of promoting enjoyment and understanding of the Surrey Hills AONB and encouraging conservation of the landscape and its wildlife. The Society has a wide network of connections that enable it to promote partnership in the community. We are constantly seeking to develop these connections and there is huge opportunity for encouraging volunteers to become involved in environmental protection and restoration, which is one of the key strategic areas identified by ZERO.

ZERO is also focused on 4 other strategic areas laid out by the Climate Change Commission as crucial for mitigation and adaptation to the Climate and ecological crisis. These include:
• Clean energy – with a focus particularly on community energy, support for renewables and smart energy systems
• Active travel infrastructure and behavioural change
• A circular economy and community re-use schemes
• Low carbon solutions, retrofitting, and energy efficiency

Projects currently being undertaken by ZERO include a climate cinema showing films that focus on the climate and environment, a green read/book share, and a community seed bank geared towards protecting biodiversity. They have also received funding from Transition Network to set up a mini vertical farming installation.

Why not visit ZERO at 14-16 Friary Street Guildford GU1 4EH or find out more on their website here

Get out, get active

Many of us will almost certainly have over-indulged during the festive season and taken less exercise than usual. However, a good number of us will also be making resolutions to get fit in the New Year. Instead of hitting the gym or joining an exercise class in the village hall, however, why not get out and get active?
The benefits of the great outdoors include reducing blood pressure, keeping our lungs, heart and bones healthy and improving our mental health and wellbeing.

Perhaps we need an extra challenge rather than simply going for another walk. While most of us enjoy a good walk (members of the SHS probably more than most) what about trying out a different type of walking? Nordic walking, with poles, is brilliant exercise, working the upper body and giving a more complete workout. No wonder it is becoming increasingly popular with plenty of local walking groups.

Or perhaps explore a different area close to home. I live just outside of Dorking by Box Hill and most of my dog walks are around local fields, but I recently discovered lovely countryside walks just the other side of Dorking around Westcott. Or why not discover Surrey’s lesser-known villages? Betchworth, Godstone, Shere and Chiddingfold get more than enough visitors, so try exploring villages away from the tourist trail. Perhaps Holmbury St Mary, where EM Forster’s “A Room with a View” is supposedly based, or Outwood, with its grade 1 post mill, picturesque Bramley, or Seale with its hidden gem, the Manor Farm Craft Centre, housed in old farm buildings.

What else apart from walking? The Surrey Hills may be landlocked, but there are many opportunities to get close to water. Willing to give wild swimming a go? Try Divers Cove in Godstone, a former sand extraction site, or Buckland Lake, a 50-acre recreational lake near Reigate. Canoeing and paddleboarding are great fun and help to tone the upper body as well as offering a great opportunity to get close to wildlife.

Cycling is a great family activity and there are plenty of interesting cycle trails that do not involve the Box Hill loop. Check out the Cycling page of the AONB website for ideas. If cycling seems too strenuous e-cycling offers low-impact exercise along with an opportunity to enjoy the countryside at a comfortable pace. It’s possible to hire by the day or as a starting point just by the hour.

Volunteering is another way to stay active and contribute to conserving and protecting our countryside. Opportunities exist with many local organisations especially those concerned with environmental and wilding initiatives.

And for those who prefer to stay home, there is plenty to do in the garden even in January. Gardening benefits our well-being and gives a full body workout particularly when raking, digging or even clearing leaves. Finally for days when the weather really is too inclement to venture out, a spring-clean is not only good for your home but can boost your mood, burn calories and do wonders for your overall health.
Susie Turner

Surrey Locations for TV and Film

Surrey has been a renowned film location for well over fifty years. One of the earliest blockbusters filmed partly in Surrey was Lawrence of Arabia back in 1962, where Peter O’Toole falling from his motorbike was shot at Chobham Common.

While two of the most often quoted films are Four Weddings and a Funeral and The Holiday, there are a whole raft of TV and film productions that have taken place in Surrey since then and it isn’t hard to understand why. Firstly, its location: Surrey is home to two high-end studios (Shepperton and more recently Longcross) and is close to London as well as Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Secondly, the wonderfully diverse scenery makes the area a perfect stand-in location for many other parts of the country and beyond.

In The Dig, the film about the discovery of Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, Norney Grange in Shackleford, was chosen as Edith Pretty’s home, while Loseley Park near Guildford doubled as Broadlands in Hampshire for recent episodes of The Crown. Netflix’s Bridgerton was filmed partly at Painshill Park and features the 18th century gardens and lake, while Leith Hill Place was transformed to the mother house of the nun’s order in Call the Midwife, even though the series is set in Sussex. Ironically, the famous picnic scene on Box Hill in Jane Austen’s Emma wasn’t filmed there at all, but at nearby Leith Hill.

Certain parts of Surrey are particularly popular and used as locations again and again. They include Frensham Ponds, Waverley Abbey, Painshill Park, Loseley, Bourne Wood (particularly famous for scenes from Harry Potter), the village of Shere and Hankley Common Nature Reserve.

Hankley Common was used for several Bond blockbusters including Skyfall and represented a French battlefield In the epic film 1917. More recently, it is rumoured to be the site for a Netflix production The Sandman. Visitors to Frensham Ponds may also have spotted a Celtic village taking shape for another upcoming Netflix production, The Cursed which also has the romantic remains of Waverley Abbey near Farnham, transformed into a ruined castle. Meanwhile, during last summer, filming of the remake of an Agatha Christie novel, Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, directed by Hugh Laurie and with a star-studded cast, took place at a number of Surrey locations, including Guildford, Mickleham and Shere.

Elsewhere, a scene for a romantic comedy What’s Love Got to Do With It? starring Lily James and Emma Thompson reportedly took place at Ashcombe School in Dorking. Another school enjoying fame earlier in 2021 was Betchworth Primary School which along with Flanchford Farm near Reigate became one of the Surrey based locations for The Larkins.

Finally a mention must be given to West Horsley Place. The 15th century manor house has become the go-to location for a range of television and film productions. One example is the popular Ghosts which was filmed there almost in its entirety – with proceeds from filming contributing to the major restoration programme.

With film production making up for lost time during the pandemic, Netflix significantly increasing activity in the UK, the expansion of both Shepperton and Longcross studios, and the support of the Surrey Film Office, an economic development initiative by Surrey County Council, it seems that the Surrey Hills can only continue as one of England’s prime filming hotspots.

Surrey Hills Champions tree planting day at Clandon Wood Natural Burial Ground

The humble hedgerow is an incredibly important habitat in the British landscape. Consisting of woody managed lines of trees, hedgerows were originally used to mark boundaries and enclose livestock. However, they also provide a multitude of benefits for wildlife, including much-loved species such as the hazel dormouse, hedgehog and barn owl.

Hedgerows containing a mix of native tree species, can provide food sources for nature, such as nuts and berries, throughout the seasons. The flowers of species such as Hawthorn and Blackthorn support a range of invertebrates, which in turn are fed on by bats and birds. However, as well as providing food, hedgerows act as important wildlife corridors, helping wildlife to travel safely across the landscape. This is particularly important for genetic diversity, preventing isolation and inbreeding of small populations, which subsequently become susceptible to disease. Therefore, by allowing wildlife to travel safely across unsuitable areas, hedgerows facilitate dynamic populations of species and increase connectivity between good quality habitats in the landscape.

Alongside the benefits to wildlife, Hedgerows also provide a range of ecosystem services which can be defined as the benefits we gain from ecosystems. Hedgerows can provide regulating ecosystem services, for example by helping to support pollinators of important crops, mitigating flooding and filtering out harmful air pollutants to name but a few. They are also important sequesters of carbon and may be more effective and beneficial than trees, in certain landscape types. We can also gain a wide array of cultural benefits from hedgerows, which act as a symbol of cultural heritage in many farming landscapes.

The coronavirus pandemic has made us all aware of how important nature is for our wellbeing and hedgerows contribute to enjoyment of recreational activities, as well as increasing green features in urban areas.

Since starting my post in early October, I have been working on a range of hedgerow planting projects, including the first tree planting day for the Surrey Hills Champions, a new initiative led by Surrey Hills Enterprises in partnership with Surrey Hills Society. The tree planting day, sponsored by Squires Garden Centres and enterprise M3, took place last Sunday at Clandon Wood Natural Burial Ground and involved the Society helping with planting a 50m stretch of native hedgerow along the perimeter fence. We planted a native mix of six tree species including Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Field Maple, Hazel, Dog Rose and Spindle. This will help to provide a range of food sources for wildlife and will create a nice thick hedge for species to shelter in. It was great to see all our Champions getting involved in the tree planting and there was a wonderful feeling of community spirit as everyone worked in small teams to dig the holes, plant the trees and add the rabbit protection.

In a relatively short period of time, we managed to get all 300 trees planted so thank you to everyone who came along!
We have a few more hedgerow planting projects in the pipeline, including the extension of the hedge at Clandon Wood by a further 250m.

If you would like to be involved in further planting projects, please do get in touch. Our hedgerow projects are helping to increase connectivity across the Surrey Hills which will have great benefits for nature and our beloved landscape. You can find out more about becoming a Surrey Hills Champion here.

Christa Emmett
Surrey Hills Project and Volunteer Coordinator

The Vineyards of the Surrey Hills

At the Guildford Book Festival in 2020 Oz Clarke spoke about his latest book, “English Wine – From Still to Sparkling – The Newest New World Wine Country”.

An extraordinary transformation has been quietly taking place during the last 20 years.  Although wine has been made in England for over 2000 years – the Romans planted vineyards as far north as Lincolnshire – it would have been hard to find anyone that took English wine seriously during most of that period. Since the turn of the century there has been an ever-increasing interest in the potential for vineyards in England and in 2019 we produced 10.5 million bottles of wine – 72% of which was sparkling.

The harbinger of change occurred in 1998 when Nyetimber’s 1993 Classic Cuvée sparkling wine was awarded the Trophy for the Best Sparkling Wine in the World, shaking the wine establishment to its core.  Since then, a recognition that the chalk geology of the North and South Downs is nearly identical to that in Champagne and the certainty of increasing temperatures because of climate change have led to more and more plantings.  Even some of the great French Champagne Houses such as Taittinger and Vranken-Pommery have begun planting the traditional champagne grape varieties in Kent and Hampshire.

The Surrey Hills is now a recognised wine growing region.  The Vineyards of the Surrey Hills collaborate to market their award-winning wines, although each has its own unique way of promoting a wine experience.

Denbies, owned and run by the White family, is the largest single estate vineyard in the country and produces several internationally award-winning wines.   Dine at the Vineyard or Gallery Restaurants, experience an indoor wine tasting and winery tour or take an outdoor vineyard tour on a train and enjoy the panoramic views of the vineyard and the North Downs.

It was their still Silent Pool Rosé that first put Albury Organic Vineyard on the map when it was served on the Royal Barge to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012. The brainchild of former IT specialist, Nick Wenman, Albury rigorously apply biodynamic principles to the production of their excellent gold award winning sparkling wines. Again, there are a wide variety of experiences to enjoy: Sparkling Afternoon Tea (with the team from the Dabbling Duck), Biryani and Bubbles (with nearby Mandira’s Kitchen), Bee Keeping Demonstration with Sergio, the Albury Bee Keeper, and Music in the Vineyard to mention just a few.

At High Clandon Bruce and Sybilla Tindale are twice winners of the prestigious IWC Cellar Door of the Year in 2017 and 2018.  They call their sparkling wine Quintessence of England.  And that is certainly the sense you get if you visit the Glass Barn – their new visitor centre where they host sparkling wine tastings alongside Sculpture and Art exhibitions.  Their wildflower meadow enjoys glorious views over the AONB towards London with the boutique vineyard nestling below.

Mike and Hilary Wagstaff took over Greyfriars Vineyard In 2010.  With over 50 acres now planted near their base on the Hogs Back they have dug a cellar out of the chalk that will house 250,000 bottles.  They specialise in making top quality sparkling wines using the traditional method but with the most modern grape growing and winemaking technology.

Mia and Graham Wrigley run the family-owned business at Chilworth Manor that produces excellent Rosé made from 51% Pinot Meunier and 49% Pinot Noir.  Chilworth Manor is a house and estate rooted in an extraordinary 1000 year history that reaches as far back as the Domesday Book – its story told through the lives of Saxons, Normans, monks, and gunpowder manufacturers.  Their 2020 production is already sold out!

There are other wineries in or near the Surrey Hills AONB such as Godstone and Iron Railway and all the signs are that future growth of wineries in the Surrey Hills will be substantial. There are now 222 vineyards in the South East representing 61.5% of the total hectarage in the UK. 26% of winegrowers in England have indicated an intention to plant more vines in the next three years (see Wine GB 2020 Industry Report).

Interestingly, it is not only the wineries that are growing.  There are many breweries and distilleries beginning to flourish in the Surrey Hills.  Keep an eye out for future eNewsletters when we hope to review the exciting things that are happening in this area.

Gordon Jackson