Old Surrey Downs
- a great success for chalk grassland
The Downlands Project completed an additional six-year Heritage Lottery and partnership funded Project, Old Surrey Downs, in June 2012.
Twenty-five key chalk grassland sites across Surrey and South London were restored through targeted countryside management and an extensive conservation grazing programme under the Old Surrey Downs Project remit. Raising public awareness of this nationally declining special habitat and encouraging community involvement was a key objective; the HLF funding enabled the Project to provide new interpretation and infrastructure on many sites, plus produce new walk leaflets and publications which are still available.
As well as welcoming many local schools out on task days, the Old Surrey Downs Project produced a Chalk Grassland Teacher's Pack for Key Stage 3 pupils (ages 11-14). The pack promotes the use of chalk grassland by schools and encourages and promotes further understanding of the habitat. Educational chalk grassland species ID keyrings, featuring key butterflies and flowers typical to this habitat, were also produced to encourage exploration, and proved very popular with all ages. Free copies of the pack are still available upon request; please contact the Downlands Project team on 01737 737700. The Project also offered free illustrated talks to local groups to promote chalk grassland and the Project's work during the six years, and continues to do so as part of the Downlands Project's ongoing community involvement work.
Chalk grassland is one of our most beautiful and richest wildlife habitats, with over 50 kinds of plant often found in a square metre. These plants in turn support a rich and varied wildlife. The habitat comes alive during the early summer months with orchids and butterflies for all to enjoy. The North Downs was once covered in flower-rich chalk grassland; much of it has now been lost and only around 1% now survives on the Surrey Hills, so it is very important that we continue to help this special habitat to thrive. Our Downlands Project sheep, goats, cattle and Dartmoor ponies continue to help to control the growth of the coarse vegetation on the sites, which in turn allows the beautiful wild flowers to grow and the butterflies to brood. The Downlands Project also continues to manage and promote chalk grassland as part of its remit to ensure the legacy of this successful Project established during 2006-2012.
One of the final targets for the Old Surrey Downs Project was to commission two beautiful bespoke sculptured oak benches for installation on key scenic sites. Surrey based sculptor Ruth Wheeler (Sculpt it) was produced the special benches. One bench depicting chalk grassland flora and butterflies has been installed on the hillside at Dene Farm on Chipstead Downs; the other depicting snails found on chalk grassland sites (Roman and the rare introduced Trochoidea elegans) is sited at the top of Park Ham, Chaldon. The Downlands Circular Walk passes along the top of Park Ham. Local resident and Downlands Trust member Stuart Billing commented 'a big well done for the lovely natural set at the top of Park Ham bowl; exactly the right spot to locate to enjoy the view and catch your breath'.
Why not go for a stroll and see for yourself?