6 people who work in the Surrey Hills

Peter Arnold leaving a map reading course

Peter Arnold leaving a map reading course - Credit: Archant

A lot of work goes into making the Surrey Hills AONB an enjoyable place for visitors to enjoy. We speak to six people who live and breathe the hills as part of their working lives

Peter Arnold, Surrey Hills Society and National Trust volunteer

“I am a founder member of the Surrey Hills Society. I started volunteering for it and also for the National Trust in 2012 as I approached retirement. I am on the Surrey Hills events committee and I’m currently organising training courses in map reading so that people feel confident exploring the countryside with map and compass,” Peter says. “The society tries to get access to places not normally easy to visit and I am still finding new places to go exploring and discovering new things. I’m very much a country person and the Surrey Hills is a fantastic area. It is particularly well supported and loved because of its close proximity to London, and this means we need to spread the visitor load. Places like Polesden Lacey and Box Hill are very busy at weekends, so it’s good to introduce people to parts of the AONB they haven’t seen before. Even on summer weekends there are many areas within the Surrey Hills that you can visit and feel well away from the crowds.”

Amanda Smith, Stockman for Manor Farm, Wotton

Amanda looks after the cattle at Manor Farm, which is in Higher Level Stewardship, with conservation high on the agenda. There are two herds – Friesians and a suckler beef herd of pedigree Belted Galloway, instantly recognisable for their thick black coats and broad white cummerbunds. Part of the farm runs along the slope of the North Downs where the ‘Belties’ are a familiar sight.

“It’s a beautiful area to work in,” she says. “I came from Hampshire and I thought Surrey would be a concrete jungle with no animals! But the views and scenery here are outstanding and I love living and working here. We do conservation grazing for the National Trust on the North Downs from April to September.”

The open meadowland on the downs is an endangered habitat for many rare plants and butterflies and this fragile ecosystem depends on grazing.

“Without farming the grassland on the downs would simply disappear,” adds Amanda. “It would very quickly revert to scrubby woodland. The cattle knock the scrub back and eat plants that are struggling to compete. As they pass through their system their seeds are spread and the rare plants increase. Farming this area with livestock is really important for plant diversity.”

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Kevin Heath, Gamekeeper near Box Hill

Kevin has been a gamekeeper since leaving school and has worked for an estate at Mickleham for four years, looking after the pheasant shoot. “Until I came to Mickleham I’d never heard of the Surrey Hills,” he says. “I had absolutely no idea how beautiful it is. I do an awful lot of woodland work, thinning and coppicing and planting trees and hedgerows. For pheasants, woodland needs to be nice and warm so you coppice the trees to encourage undergrowth. Song birds like to nest in the undergrowth so there are a lot of benefits for wildlife. We use some wood for logs but we leave a lot on the ground for the benefit of beetles and larvae and that in turn helps the hedgehogs. We have a lot of hedgehogs here because of that. If it wasn’t done, the trees would grow up, block out the light and there would be no understorey, so I’m keeping the woodland healthy for birds, hedgehogs and other wildlife.”

Dr Jim Jones, Surrey Wildlife Trust Hedgerow Hero

Jim is one of the people responsible for the stretches of beautiful laid hedging in the AONB. It is an ancient craft with its own distinctive vocabulary and it is enjoying a renaissance.

“I am a hedgelayer of sorts, although not a professional. I have an interest in all things hedgerow from the biodiversity in them – I used to be hedgerows for dormice officer for the national charity the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) – to their use as a wood fuel and flood management tool,” he says. “I’m currently responsible for a new citizen science project called Hedgerow Heroes where I teach people hedgerow surveys and hedgelaying. The principal aims are to rejuvenate hedgerows in poor condition and to connect people with this disappearing traditional rural skill and their local landscapes.

“We have just applied for some lottery funding for the project with support from the AONB and local hedgelaying groups, such as South of England and Surrey Hedgelaying Group among others. I am also involved in other projects in Canada and France focussing on the creation or restoration of hedged landscapes.”

Sean Grufferty, Grazing officer for the Downlands Partnership

Sean is based at Carshalton and manages sheep, cattle and goats across the North Downs from Nork to Tatsfield, where the AONB brushes up against Greater London and countryside is most precious.

“I’m an Epsom townie but I started volunteering in countryside conservation when I was at university and I have been grazing officer for the last three and a half years. It’s such an inspiring place to work and it’s so important because we have only got one per cent of the chalk grassland that we had at the end of the war – 99 per cent has been taken over by secondary woodland and scrub,” he says. “Yet chalk grassland is called our UK version of the Amazonian rainforest because of the diversity of species found here.

“Over thousands of years, traditional farming practices made an incredibly rich ecosystem on the chalk grassland. All you could do with the poor soil was graze sheep but that is no longer economically viable so we do conservation grazing using mainly sheep but where there is a risk from dogs we use Sussex cattle and to get scrub under control we use goats.

“I absolutely love working in the Surrey Hills. It’s awe-inspiring. There’s nothing like chalk grassland especially in the summer. It’s full of flowers and butterflies and you don’t need to have money to enjoy it. It’s there for everyone.”

Margaret Barlow, Furnace Place Estate, Haslemere

Margaret has lived in the Surrey Hills all her life. Her late husband John inherited the family’s Furnace Place Estate at Haslemere, a former hunting estate with woods, farms, streams and lakes, and Margaret has been running the estate with the help of her daughter Emmalene.

She is also the founder of Imbhams Farm Granary, which supplies freshly milled grains sold at farmers’ markets.

“The estate had been in the family since 1902 and until the 1970s was run as a hunting and shooting estate. It’s absolutely beautiful countryside here,” she explains. “When John came back to farm it the land was refenced and beef cattle were brought in. I was made a partner 20 years ago to help manage the estate and I have been farming it on my own for quite a few years now.

“It’s very important that people understand about the countryside and I am keen to expand the educational projects I run here as well as work on my pedigree flock of Jacob Sheep.”


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