With the past year having drawn more people than ever towards our green spaces in an effort to find fresh air for exercise and to reconnect with nature, the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is calling on people to remember to tread carefully when walking in the countryside.
Current government Coronavirus guidelines stipulate that outdoor exercise should be taken locally, including when accessing open spaces, and therefore people should not be travelling into the Surrey Hills AONB if it is not within walking distance of their home. Those that do choose to walk in the countryside are being urged to do so mindfully of both the environment and the wildlife that calls the Surrey Hills home.
Designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1958 and stretching across the chalk North Downs from Farnham in the west to Oxted in the east, the Surrey Hills AONB encompasses a quarter of the county and houses a diverse variety of wildlife due to the unique combination of woodland, downland and heathland. Key species include ground nesting birds that may not be visible but make homes for their young just out of sight, and potentially underfoot, during the breeding season of February to August.
Staying on marked paths and routes is particularly important when it comes to protecting these vulnerable species as disturbing them may lead to the abandonment of eggs or chicks, meaning that the birds fail to nest, eggs to hatch and chicks may die from lack of food, cold or predation. It is also a criminal offence to disturb wild breeding birds.
It is for this reason that the Surrey Hills AONB is asking walkers to remember to follow marked paths and keep their dogs on a short lead during the bird breeding season. Those that may come across young chicks or distressed adult birds should move away quietly and quickly, even if it might mean going back the way they came.
Mike Coates, RSPB Warden for Farnham and Hazeley Heaths explains:
“It is so important to protect our ground nesting birds and other wildlife. If the birds are disturbed, they can abandon their eggs and chicks. People can really help by staying on paths and keeping dogs on leads where they are asked to. It’s a simple thing, but it can make a big difference!”
Rob Fairbanks, Director of the Surrey Hills AONB, says:
“We are passionate about people accessing the countryside for their health and wellbeing but in these difficult times we need to act with the utmost responsibility and be mindful of our impact on wildlife. Our farmers and land managers also need our support by keeping to paths, being careful not to trample on crops, closing gates and ensuring we all practice The Countryside Code values of ‘Respect – Protect – Enjoy’.”
The Countryside Code urges people to play their part in looking after local landscapes by:
- leaving no trace of their visit, including taking litter home with them;
- ensuring dogs are kept under control;
- leaving gates as they find them so as to not disturb farm animals;
- considering the local community when visiting,
- following signs and keeping to designated paths and bridleways
It is a message echoed by The National Trust, which cares for more than 15,000 acres of the Surrey Hills.
Stephanie Fudge, National Trust General Manager for the Surrey Hills explains,
“The numbers and diversity of birds is so important for our environment and the food chain. We see large numbers of ground nesting birds across the Surrey Hills from March until early Summer. Their breeding success is critically dependent on not being disturbed and so we would ask that visitors are considerate, to keep to paths and keep their dogs on leads in sensitive areas. Together we can protect and nurture the success of these nesting families.”
For further information on the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) visit www.surreyhills.org.