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