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Surrey Hills host Lord Benyon for a day of landscape and community engagement

On Tuesday 1 February 2022, the Surrey Hills National Landscape was delighted to host The Rt Hon Lord Benyon, the Government Minister for Rural Affairs, Access to Nature and Biosecurity for the opportunity to hear about their current projects, and meet some of the land managers, local businesses and partners within the Surrey Hills.

Welcomed by Heather Kerswell (Independent Chair) and Rob Fairbanks (Director) the Minister’s morning started at Chinthurst Hill, in one of the evaluation areas for the Surrey Hills boundary review, a project led by Natural England. The boundary review is an excellent opportunity for locations outside of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) to be formally assessed with the potential to be included within an extended protected area. The public engagement platform closed on 31 January and saw over 2,000pieces of evidence gathered across the landscape.

Pictured left to right: Rob Fairbanks (Surrey Hills Board Director), Clive Smith (Surrey Hills Planning Adviser), Stephen Rudd (Natural England), Heather Kerswell (Surrey Hills Independent Chair) and The Rt Hon Lord Benyon

At Newlands Corner, which commands wonderful views across the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Minister was joined by Albury Estate landowner, Earl Percy, and Marisa Heath, Surrey’s cabinet member for Environment. They were given an overview on the recent improvements to visitor facilities including new signage and interpretation, self-guided walking trails and the resurfaced car park. The group enjoyed a preview of the newly upgraded Discovery Centre, which is due to open to the public in the coming months, as well as viewing a short compilation of the #MySurreyHills video series. Looking across the viewpoint, the Growth Team from Surrey Choices welcomed the group to the beautiful landscape where they have been undertaking some essential habitat and access management work to restore the chalk grassland habitat. This work is being undertaken in collaboration with the Surrey Hills Society, and this talented team from Surrey Choices are the first group of Surrey Hills Conservation Volunteers, helping manage access and habitats for people and nature. Surrey Choices provide a range of support services, which are dedicated to improving the independence, confidence, and life skills of disabled and autistic people and those with other support needs.

Pictured: The Growth Team from Surrey Choices, Lord Benyon and Surrey Hills Society

Walking along the North Downs way, the Guildford Design Award-winning ‘Optohedron’ by Will Nash was a brilliant way to frame the view and discover one of the Inspiring Views from the Surrey Hills Arts programme.

Pictured left to right: Alistair Burtenshaw, Director of Watts Gallery and Surrey Hills Arts Chair Lord Benyon and Alison Clarke (Surrey Hills Arts)

Continuing down into the Albury Estate, they were able to see one of the Surrey Hills FiPL applications (Farming in Protected Landscapes, funded by Defra) in action through the new flail collector purchased via the grant by Michael Baxter of the Albury Estate. This new machinery has enabled the Estate to improve its management of the important heathland, chalk grassland and woodland sites by working more efficiently and productively over larger areas. This is to the benefit of the landscape, wildlife, for example the small blue butterfly, biodiversity and the many people who visit this part of the Surrey Hills. The FiPL fund is key to helping deliver the Surrey Hills Management Plan by supporting projects including cluster groups of landowners and managers who are planting over 7.5 km of new native hedgerow this winter.

Pictured: Alex & Dom of Albury Organic Vineyard with Lord Benyon

Finally, after walking through the Albury Organic Vineyard, the Minister and guests enjoyed some delicious lunch from Surrey Hills Enterprises members Mandira’s Kitchen which was served with Albury Organic wine. This also gave the opportunity to meet local business owners such as Norbury Park Cheese, Silent Pool Distillery, LC Energy and Coverwood Farm, hosted by Simon Whalley and Wendy Varcoe of Surrey Hills Enterprises.

The Minister was able to witness the stunning illustrations of the Surrey Hills indicator species from their Making Space for Nature project. These paintings were created by an ‘Our Time’ artist at HMP Send, taking part in a programme delivered by Watts Gallery Trust and funded by the Michael Varah Memorial Fund in collaboration with the Surrey Hills Society and Surrey Hills Trust Fund.

Lunch was set in the background of the Albury Estate Vineyard and the site where a wildlife pond is being created. Before departure, Lord Benyon was able to plant a tree at this site and thank his hosts.

I was delighted to meet the talented and passionate Surrey Hills family and their partners for what was a vibrant and informative day. It was wonderful to hear about the valuable work being undertaken to support native species and improve access for the public.

The Rt Hon Lord Benyon

We are very grateful to Lord Benyon for accepting our invitation to spend a day in the Surrey Hills. His enthusiasm and interest in our projects was brilliant to see and we look forward to updating him in due course about all the work we do at the Surrey Hills.

Heather Kerswell, Independent Chair of the Surrey Hills
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