Surrey Life - - Overheard In Surrey -

Sur­rey Hills was the sec­ond area of Eng­land to be des­ig­nated an AONB, with the Gower Penin­sula, South Wales, be­ing the first. De­spite Sur­rey be­ing per­ceived by some as an ex­ten­sion of Lon­don, within its 420 square kilo­me­tres of nat­u­ral beauty, 40 per cent is wood­land and 25 per cent open ac­cess land.

Over 140 full time farm­ers make their liv­ing in the Sur­rey Hills, with many other agri­cul­tural prac­ti­tion­ers play­ing an ac­tive role in the land­scape. It re­mains an im­por­tant ru­ral area of Eng­land’s land­scape, and attracts over 30 mil­lion vis­i­tors an­nu­ally.

As one of the UK’S 46 AONBS, the Sur­rey Hills is pro­tected by the Coun­try­side and Rights of Way Act 2000 to con­serve and en­hance its nat­u­ral beauty. The Glover Re­view, prompted by En­vi­ron­ment Sec­re­tary Michael Gove, investigates whether such des­ig­nated land­scapes are fit for the fu­ture. Mr Gove com­mented, “The cre­ation of Na­tional Parks al­most 70 years ago changed the way we view our pre­cious land­scapes. Amid a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion, changes in tech­nol­ogy, and a de­cline in cer­tain habi­tats, the time is right for us to look afresh at these land­scapes. We want to make sure they are not only con­served, but en­hanced for the next gen­er­a­tion.”

The re­view, led by writer Ju­lian Glover, ex­plores how ac­ces­si­bil­ity to these land­scapes can be im­proved, how those who live and work in them can be bet­ter sup­ported, and what their role is in grow­ing the ru­ral econ­omy.

While Michael Gove con­sid­ers the wider UK map, there are rum­blings more lo­cally about the pos­si­bil­ity of the Sur­rey Hills chang­ing sta­tus from an AONB to a Na­tional Park. A re­cent sym­po­sium at the Univer­sity of Sur­rey, pre­sented by Tom Heap of BBC’S Coun­try­file, in­cluded a panel of em­i­nent speak­ers who dis­cussed the fu­ture of the

Sur­rey Hills and pos­si­ble ben­e­fits of chang­ing sta­tus. AONBS are ar­eas of coun­try­side that in­clude vil­lages and towns. They have the same le­gal protection for their land­scapes as Na­tional Parks, but do not have their own au­thor­i­ties for plan­ning con­trol and other ser­vices as Na­tional Parks do. In­stead they are looked af­ter by part­ner­ships be­tween lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. There is also some ku­dos about be­ing de­clared a Na­tional Park, a name that peo­ple know and re­spect, but are these points enough to make the change?

On the panel, and speak­ing as a fourth gen­er­a­tion Sur­rey farmer, Hugh Broom from West­cott ex­plained why the land it­self is so im­por­tant: “We farm 320 acres. We have cows, sheep and 60 acres of wood­land from which we sell logs, and also a very suc­cess­ful as­para­gus busi­ness. We do our best to re­duce chem­i­cal us­age on the land and have used over 4,000 tons of food waste brought down from Lon­don over the past four years. This is great for the crops, and so much bet­ter for the soil than us­ing ni­trates,” he said. “My in­ter­est in this de­bate is how we are best us­ing Sur­rey’s land and how are we con­serv­ing its good­ness. Would a Na­tional Park change the way we man­age our farm? I think prob­a­bly not, but we are happy for the change, as long as there is no added bu­reau­cracy.”

Pro­fes­sor Tim Jack­son, di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for the Un­der­stand­ing of Sus­tain­able Pros­per­ity at the Univer­sity of Sur­rey, added, “The land is the lungs for our sys­tem as hu­mans. Sur­rey is a heav­ily wooded area, and all the trees and forests are crit­i­cal to our well-be­ing, both sci­en­tif­i­cally and aes­thet­i­cally. If the change in sta­tus to a Na­tional Park is go­ing to add protection for all of those things, then we would surely wel­come it. In the plan­ning we need to con­sider how to put the val­ues of the land back into the hands of the peo­ple, and

cre­ate a struc­ture where lo­cal peo­ple can get in­volved.”

The sym­po­sium cov­ered is­sues and con­cerns on plan­ning, hous­ing, farm­ing, the in­fra­struc­ture, the man­age­ment of the M25, and many other is­sues that drew pas­sion­ate re­sponses from Sur­rey res­i­dents, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and busi­ness peo­ple.

Sarah-jane Chimb­wandira, di­rec­tor of Bio­di­ver­sity, Ev­i­dence and Pol­icy at Sur­rey Wildlife Trust and Sur­rey Na­ture Part­ner­ship, and a trustee of the Sur­rey Hills So­ci­ety, was con­cerned about the need for change in sta­tus.

“I don’t want us to get dis­tracted by long de­bates on the tran­si­tion to a Na­tional Park if it means we take our eyes off other con­cerns in the Sur­rey Hills,” she said. “The need for ad­di­tional hous­ing is a big is­sue in this area, and we need to ad­dress prob­lems with our in­fra­struc­ture to cope with that. Peo­ple think that be­com­ing a Na­tional Park will tighten up plan­ning laws, but as I un­der­stand it, AONBS en­joy the same sta­tus.

“The Sur­rey Hills is an in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful area and de­serves the glo­ri­ous sta­tus of Na­tional Park, but only if it brings ad­di­tional ben­e­fits – I don’t want it to usurp the good work al­ready in place.”

Whether the Sur­rey Hills re­mains an AONB, or changes sta­tus to a Na­tional Park, there is no dis­put­ing the af­fec­tion with which this beau­ti­ful land­scape is held. A fas­ci­nat­ing, lot­tery funded book called The Sur­rey Hills – Our Chang­ing Land­scape marks the 60th an­niver­sary of the Sur­rey Hills AONB and the 10th an­niver­sary of The Sur­rey Hills So­ci­ety. Its author, Ken Bare, vice chair­man of the Sur­rey Hills So­ci­ety, sums up the fu­ture of the Sur­rey Hills with these words:

“It’s more than the land­scape, it’s more than just the fields and coun­try­side. It’s the way the area works. It has to be a liv­ing, work­ing land­scape rather than just a mu­seum.”

To sub­mit an on-line sur­vey and have your say on the fu­ture of the Sur­rey Hills visit: sur­rey­hillssur­ For more on the what’s go­ing in in the hills visit sur­rey­

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