Heath Week 2020: BBC Countryfile explores Surrey’s heathlands

Belted Galloways on heathland. Image: Jon Hawkins

Belted Galloways on heathland. Image: Jon Hawkins - Credit: Archant

You can watch presenters Matt Baker and Margherita Taylor at 7pm on BBC One this Sunday

Matt Baker and the SWT team. Image: Surrey Wildlife Trust

Matt Baker and the SWT team. Image: Surrey Wildlife Trust - Credit: Archant

Surrey residents may have spotted the familiar faces of BBC Countryfile TV presenters Matt Baker and Margherita Taylor in Surrey a few weeks back as they filmed a special episode of the BBC One programme with Surrey Wildlife Trust.

The filming took place to celebrate Heath Week 2020 taking place this week (July 27-August 2) and features Wisley and Ockham Common.

A full schedule of virtual guided walks, talks and heathland inspired activities are also taking place on Surrey Wildlife Trust’s (SWT) social media channels in the lead up to the epsiode airing at 7pm on Sunday, August 2.

Highlights of the episode include Margherita Taylor making an early start with Ralph Connolly, from the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC), to discover the UK’s rarest reptile, the elusive sand lizard. She also had a sneak preview of the newly refurbished Semaphore Tower at Chatley Heath. Matt Baker experienced the excitement of a night shoot with SWT’s conservation manager Ben Habgood, glimpsing the nocturnal nightjar and listening to its beguiling churring.

Sand Lizard. Image: Mike Waite

Sand Lizard. Image: Mike Waite - Credit: Archant

He also spent an afternooon with JWT grazing manager Jo Saunders, and the herd of Belted Galloway cattle at Wisley Common, learning about the conservation work carried out by the herd, how the trust locate the cows using GPS technology, and the insect ecosystem of a cow pat.

“We are so incredibly lucky in Surrey to have rare fragments of lowland heath, which is teeming with wildlife at this time of year,” says SWT’s marketing and communications manager Charlotte Magowan. “We couldn’t run our usual Heath Week this year, so we have gone all out to show people the wildlife treasures of this globally rare habitat online: the ravishing pink and purple heather, carnivorous sundew, rare reptiles and the amazing ground nesting birds.

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“We were absolutely buzzing to be able to share our conservation work and the weird and wonderful heathland wildlife with Countryfile. We are so blessed as the nightjar migrates an incredible 6,000 miles annually from sub-Saharan Africa to reach its breeding grounds right here on our Surrey heaths. Both online and TV audiences are in for such a treat, and we hope they will be inspired to visit Chobham, Whitmoor, Wisley and Ockham Commons, Brentmoor or any other Surrey heaths after their sneak preview!”

The heathlands in July and August are a truly sensory experience, with the lovely sweet smell of heather and pine warmed by the sun. The annual Heath Week event is designed to encourage local people to explore and appreciate the county’s vast wilderness of heathland, which spans areas between Farnham and Godalming in the south of the county to Woking and Camberley, Chobham and Cobham in the north. One of the most ancient and characteristic British landscapes, it has special conservation protection internationally, is home to an incredible diversity of wildlife and provides a living link to our stone age past.

This year the trust teamed up with Natural England’s Thames Basin Heaths Partnership (TBHP) for the virtual Heath Week which includes guided tours of many of Surrey’s heathlands and its flora and fauna, as well as an intorduction to heathland birdsong with Nick Izard of TBHP. Heathlands are abundant with insects at this time, so there will be also be spider and dragonfly guides as well as spotlights on species such as nightjars and adders.

Other features include a guide to responsible dog-walking on heathlands and information on wildfires and what we can all do to prevent them. Y

For further information about Virtual Heath Week 2020 visit surreywildlifetrust.org/heath-week, follow #heathweek on social media and you can watch the Surrey heathlands BBC Countryfile special airs at 7pm on Sunday, August 2 on BBC One.

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