Looking after Woking’s rare heathlands for wildlife and people

Over 85 per cent of Surrey’s heathland has been lost in just 200 years, so preserving local heaths is vital to ensure they continue to support their rare wildlife and provide access and enjoyment for everyone, now and in the future.The Surrey Heathland Partnership, one of the three Surrey Countryside Partnerships, has been looking after and improving Surrey’s rare heathland for over 25 years; working in partnership with Woking Borough Council, Surrey County Council and other bordering boroughs.Surrey’s heathland is an internationally important habitat, home to many rare and endangered plants and wildlife. Locally rare species include distinctive Grayling and Silver-studded Blue butterflies, the elusive Nightjar and Woodlark birds, and nationally rare species including the Sand Lizard and colourful Tiger beetle.

Surrey is one of only three counties in the British Isles that supports all of the native heathland reptiles and amphibians.Heathlands require ongoing, planned management to restore and maintain their wild and natural characteristic.

The Surrey Heathland Partnership has a wealth of knowledge in actively managing heathlands and organises seasonal practical land management. The work involves removing encroaching trees and scrub, controlling the spread of invasive bracken, gorse and grasses and re-introducing conservation grazing to further open up the landscape.

Targeted clearance work brings in light and allows the dormant heather seed to germinate in the summer which leads to the carpet of purple, buzzing with life once the heather comes into bloom around August time. Because heathland has been recognised as a vitally important biodiverse habitat, the majority of heathland areas in Surrey have been designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), including the four heaths that the Surrey Heathland Partnership manages for Woking Borough Council. This gives the heaths special protection from development and safeguards their future management with a legal obligation on landowners to manage them.

The special heaths that are right on our doorsteps in Woking are: • Sheet’s Heath Common, west of the borough near Brookwood• Brookwood Heath• Smarts Heath Common south of the borough near Mayford• Prey Heath Common, south of Smart’s HeathAll four sites have work programmes in place for scrub clearance and are grazed by either cattle or ponies; a total area of approximately 69 hectares (a hectare is slightly large than a football pitch) was grazed during 2016/17.

Grazing with hardy breeds helps to reduce the amount of scrub that develops, as animals graze off seedling trees. Grazing also promotes layers in the vegetation, which greatly benefits all the different species. Ecological monitoring and bird surveys are also regularly carried out on all sites. [box quote]Cllr Kevin Davis for Heathlands Ward says: “I have long viewed the heathlands in Woking as a jewel in the crown. Residents of Woking are incredibly lucky to have such a natural landscape on the doorstep. Fortunately its value is well recognised by the Surrey Heathland partners who do a fantastic job at ensuring it is protected whilst also being accessible. With the international and national protections afforded to it, we will ensure it is there for generations to come.”

During the autumn/winter months, the Surrey Heathland Partnership welcome community and corporate groups for practical conservation scrub clearance tasks by special arrangement on any of these sites – email Debbie Hescott, Business Development Officer at countrysidepartnershipsteam@surreycc.gov.uk.For more information please visit www.woking.gov.uk/leisure/greenspaces and search for Surrey Heathland Partnership at www.surreycc.gov.uk. Follow @ExploreSurreyUK on Twitter for news and information about Surrey’s countryside, including heathlands, plus lots of walks, events and volunteering opportunities.

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