Surrey Hills Symposium

Our Natural Health Service

We were delighted to support the Surrey Hills AONB Symposium, which was organised by the AONB team and our Chairman, Gordon Jackson, in his capacity as Chairman of the Advisory Panel for the Surrey Hills Trust Fund. This was a great event which brought together over 400 people with an interest in the Surrey Hills.

The theme of the Symposium was the importance of nature in improving society’s health and well being and we were honoured that Dame Penelope Keith, as Patron of the Surrey Hills, opened the evening and introduced the first guest speaker.

We heard a fascinating talk from Dr William Bird MBE, who founded the Walking for Health charity, which demonstrated the many medical benefits that are associated with being out in the countryside.

This was followed by a talk from Professor Caroline Scarles from the University of Surrey, who presented her research about Living Environments for Healthy Ageing. We heard how tests have shown that the elderly derive great benefits from experiencing the countryside through immersive technology even though they have been unable to go outside. In some cases this even encouraged people, who had not previously ventured out for some considerable time, to go on walks and enjoy the outdoors.

Dr Birgitta Gatersleben, also from the University of Surrey, concluded the presentations by giving the audience a brief summary of the findings of a research project carried out by Genevieve Lebus, under Birgitta’s supervision, entitled “Into the Wild”. This project was commissioned by the Surrey Hills Trust Fund in association with LC Energy and the University.

The detailed research runs to 100 pages and highlights the significant deprivation that exists in some parts of Surrey and identifies that some 10,000 young people aged between 5 and 15 suffer from mental health issues. It also reviews the many studies that demonstrate how young people’s health and well being can benefit significantly from being outdoors. There is clear evidence that mental health issues can start at a very young age and early intervention can prevent a person suffering later in life.

The study also identifies youth groups in Surrey that would like to do more in the countryside, as well as those that could help and the barriers that are encountered.

There was an enthusiastic question and answer session at the end of the presentations and the evening was concluded by the High Sheriff, Bridget Biddell, whose theme for her shrieval year is “Nurturing through Surrey’s Nature”. Gordon Jackson promised that the Surrey Hills Trust Fund and the AONB would establish a steering group to spearhead a concerted effort to work with all interested parties so as to develop ways to improve the opportunities for Surrey’s youth. The focus would be on young people from deprived areas and would look at ways to overcome barriers in order to capitalise on the many opportunities that already exist and facilitate engagement with the countryside through our beautiful Surrey Hills.

The presentations and the full text of the Into the Wild research project can be seen at



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