Surrey Hills Landscapes
Find out more about the features of the Surrey Hills landscape below:
Visitors to the Surrey Hills can enjoy a remarkable range of changing scenery and diversity of landscape through the panoramic views obtained from the many vantage points spread throughout the AONB. The best known include Gravelly Hill, Colley Hill, Box Hill, Merrow Downs, Leith Hill and The Devil’s Punch Bowl.
There are numerous other locations along the North Downs and Greensand Hills that afford a view over surrounding countryside. The view from Newlands Corner is possibly the best in Southern England overlooking the delightful Tillingbourne Valley and St Martha’s Church on its sandy ridge. On a clear day it is claimed that 13 counties can be seen from Leith Hill, which at 290m is the highest point in South East England.
Heathland is a significant component in the Surrey Hills landscape, covering some 18% of the AONB as heaths and commons. Extensive areas of heathland occur in south west Surrey at Thursley, Frensham and Hindhead, and unusually at Headley on acid soil overlying chalk. Heathland also survives in numerous small pockets, as at the Hurtwood, Leith Hill, Blackheath and Crooksbury. These heathlands represent one of Europe’s most important and threatened habitats which is reflected in the designation of Thursley as a National Nature Reserve.
Commons are familiar features throughout the Surrey Hills. They include vast open tracts of heathy common at Thursley, Puttenham and Frensham, and wooded commons at Ranmore, Hurtwood, Ockley and Witley. Traditional village greens have usually evolved from common land. Many commons particularly those with views, such as Ranmore, are popular visitor destinations.
Chalk grassland is an internationally important habitat and is identified as a priority in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. Only 1% of the Surrey Hills has remnant chalk grassland cover. These chalk grasslands support a diversity of flora and fauna, including wild flowers, herbs and mosses, together with a myriad of associated insects, particularly butterflies. At White Downs and Box Hill there are wonderful examples of chalk grassland managed by the National Trust.
The Surrey Hills boasts a rich diversity of natural and man made features associated with water, including springs, ponds, canals and wooded ghylls. Most are quite small, although larger ponds such as Frensham and Silent Pool are prominent features and visitor attractions. Ponds have featured in the landscape for centuries, often created to satisfy the needs of industry (mill ponds and hammer ponds such as Thursley), agriculture (field ponds), sport (duck decoys), and to act as a focus for communities (village ponds). There are also lots of ponds that can be seen on heathlands and commons derived from bomb craters and from mineral extraction.
The Surrey Hills landscape is made up of a patchwork of different character areas each one distinctive with its own identity and set of features. Farming has played a central role in shaping this landscape, although only 40% of the Surrey Hills is designated as agricultural land. Traditional mixed farming creates a beautiful and forever changing landscape. The seasonal cycle of ploughing, drilling seeds and harvesting provides a valuable habitat for many species of farmland birds like the peewit, skylark and barn owl.
Farm boundaries, principally shaws and hedgerows, some of which have considerable antiquity and historical interest, are important features in the Surrey Hills. They provide wildlife corridors and have considerable influence on the pattern, scale and character of the landscape. Their protection and management is key to sustaining the diversity and distinctiveness of the AONB.
Historic landscape features are found throughout the Surrey Hills and, together with landscaped parks, create distinctive local landscapes. Parkland contributes significantly to the landscape character of the Surrey Hills, as with the Wotton and Albury Estates, and as much as 6% of the AONB is registered as parkland.
The Surrey Hills has numerous attractive, winding, often enclosed, country lanes. A large number are ‘sunken’ lanes, particularly in the Greensand. Sunken lanes are often former drove ways, formed by erosion of sand and chalk. They have characteristically high banks with tree cover, and some, with their emergent tree roots, are spectacular features. Roads, bridleways and footpaths can be as much a part of the landscape as hedges and fields. The Surrey Hills enjoys an extensive network of footpaths and bridleways, including the North Downs Way National Trail, the Greensand Way and the Downs Link, which provide ready access throughout the AONB.
The Surrey Hills has a rich and diverse built heritage featuring many small farmsteads, pleasant hamlets with village greens, and grand houses set in parkland. Local materials like stone, flint, tile, brick and timber are featured throughout the Surrey Hills defining the sense of place. Many villages are picturesque and many feature ‘Surrey Style’ architecture, inspired by Lutyens and the Arts and Crafts Movement, whose designs sought to reflect local vernacular traditions. Many villages evolved around village greens creating picturesque scenes and are often designated as Conservation Areas.
The Surrey Hills is greatly valued for its scenic beauty and provides a wonderful inspiration.
It is a resource for historical, cultural, ecological, archaeological and literary interest. The area has influenced some of the country’s finest writers, poets, artists and musicians. That inspiration continues today with millions of visitors attracted to its beauty spots and viewpoints to seek recreation and relaxation.
The area’s abundance of natural features, local landmarks, attractive villages and breathtaking views means the Surrey Hills is valued as an area that is pleasant to live, work and visit. Many areas of the Surrey Hills still retain a feeling of remoteness, isolation and tranquility, including dark skies at night.