Old Surrey Downs Project

A great success for chalk grassland

The Downlands Partnership completed a six-year Heritage Lottery Fund 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 work and an extensive conservation grazing programme under the Old Surrey Downs Project branding during 2006 to 2012.

Raising public awareness of this nationally declining special habitat and encouraging community involvement was a key objective; the Heritage Lottery Fund funding enabled the Project to provide new interpretation and infrastructure on key chalk grassland sites, as well as producing various new walk leaflets and publications; the walk leaflets are still available to request on the Downlands Partnership walks webpage. An extensive outreach programme was completed, including taking the Old Surrey Downs Project exhibition trailer to Victoria train station in London to promote chalk grassland to commuters and visitors travelling to/from Surrey and South London.

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. The pack is accompanied by the Visit the Chalk booklet, which provides a guide to chalk grassland sites to explore in Surrey and South London. Free copies of the pack, booklet and ID keyrings are still available upon request; please contact the Downlands Partnership team on 01883 341140 or email: downlands@surreycc.gov.uk. 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 Partnership'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 Partnership sheep, goats and cattle continue to help to control the growth of the coarse vegetation on the sites, which in turn allows beautiful wild flowers to grow and butterflies to brood. The Downlands Partnership also continues to manage and promote chalk grassland as part of its remit to ensure the legacy of this successful Project post 2012.

Benchmark Success

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) created 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?

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