Winter Arrives

The reserve has been changing slowly over the last few weeks and our ever changeable weather, as always, has held the key to the change. As you know, this year has been very warm after the slow cool spring and the results have been obvious with a number of the flowers I had planted in the summer still flowering in mid November. The tree leaves didn’t start to drop seriously until the second week of this month and as I raked a few leaves off the reserve last week I remembered that this was the sort of job I used to do from late September onwards  and that autumn seemed to be four to five weeks later than when I was a child.

Corn Marigold giving it to winter.
Pheasants Eye after shower

With all the warmth the persistent weeds had a chance to invade areas I had previously cleared. I tried to keep on top off these species but know it is going to be an impossible battle to totally control.

Creeping Buttercup creeping in

The reason these plants are successful species is because they have the ability to quickly move into cleared areas and put down their roots and runners and establish themselves as the dominant species.

Teasel ready for next year.

As leaves have only come down in the last couple of weeks I had been spared any major leaf raking but now they were down and building up in areas of the garden that had been cleared and although you may feel that my clearance was a little too tidy for a natural garden/reserve area , I am only doing this to stop over fertilisation of the soil where there would be wildflowers growing next year. Most wildflowers do not require high nutrient levels in the soil where they grow and leaves will enrich the soil when they rot down. It is again a thankless task but until the flowers are established, I feel it will help establishing the wildflowers for next year.

So what has the local wildlife been doing with these changes in the season and on the reserve? Well there has been a lot more birds seen, possibly due to the fact that I have started a feeding stations on the site and it amazed me that when I put the first feeder up, there were Blue Tit and Coal Tits feeding within ten minutes on the feeders. When the weather was unseasonably warm last week I noted less activity on the feeders and then the temperatures dropped a few degrees and the feeders became a hive of activity once again and I have noted Blue, Great, Coal and Long – Tailed Tits along with the feisty Robins and Nuthatches all feeding at the new feeding station.

I say it’s a new feeding station but it all honesty it’s an old site that hasn’t been used for six years now and I’ve already seen a few issues to where it is positioned. A lot of cover has grown around the site and I’ve already seen the local cat community launch a few, thankfully failed, attempts at the feeding station. So I’m going to reposition the feeding station to a more open area where the feeding birds will have a better chance of spotting any incoming predators like the cats and the local Sparrowhawk of which I noted a large female blast through the site the other day but was unsuccessful in its attempt. I have less of an issue with the Sparrowhawks than the cats as the Sparrowhawks are native to the area and need to eat like everything does. The Badgers and Foxes are still regular nocturnal visitors and I’ve seen how the Foxes always give way to the badgers and are much more wary than  the Badgers who don’t seem that bothered at my presence at all!

We shall see what the deeper winter brings the local wildlife  populations in the garden over the forthcoming weeks and how they deal with it.

Hog’s Back Inspiration

Part of the reason for creating this site was to motivate me to go and have a look at bits of Surrey outside my experience. Over the last weekend I got a little lost driving through The Hurtwood, just down the road and apparently the largest area of privately owned common in England, who knew? Certainly not me! I will definitely return and explore on foot, though I suspect it would take years to do it justice.

Glorious weather on Sunday and with a need to at least feel the sun, led to a walk in unexplored country. Having parked in the village of Puttenham we tried to follow the line of a right of way up the south facing slopes of the Hog’s Back.

Invisible Path

Like most “dead ended” paths it has fallen in to almost complete disuse with the farmer not even bothering to leave uncultivated. The views are spectacular from the Hog’s Back but other than high speed views north from the A31 must be amongst the best kept secrets in Surrey.

One end, the dead end!

From this rather old way marker the path continues across a piece of SCC owned and managed common adjacent to the A31, or should I say disgracefully not managed?

Ex Chalk Downland

Sadly this remnant strip of chalk grassland is now largely swallowed up by brambles. The strip of yew wood along the non road edge could be fantastic but I suspect another case of no money/no awareness.

Yew grove with scrubbed grassland beyond

Path finished at the side of the dual carriageway so, I confess, we had to invent a route and turn SW. Quickly found an old quarry access track which led us through a secret landscape of woodlands, wet and dry, and quirky shaped fields.

View after view

Across a minor rd and along an estate access route we finally encountered some fellow humans as well as a flock of mixed small birds including a number of Bramblings feeding on the Beech mast.

To my wife delight we also discovered some of the biggest mushrooms!

Dinner plates!

The return path followed the edge of Puttenham common and the Greensand Way. Land of ancient pollards


And stationary Ents!

Cause and effect

As the countryside continues to change it’s pallet through golds and orange to starker dark outlines the time for much countryside management recommences.

Happy wife and dog

Having just attended Surrey Wildlife Trust’s AGM the consequences of Surrey County Councils belligerence are becoming more and more stark. With the justification of massively reduced central government funding and the frankly fatuous excuse of “funding the countryside is not a statutory function of a local authority ” a small number of councillors have continued with the deluded approach that the countryside can pay for itself.

In simple revenue terms IT CANNOT!

It is not possible to reduce budgets, even if assisted by additional so called commercial income, without really serious effects. The most obvious of these “harms” is to the ability of SWT to convincingly maintain engagement with local communities and communicate accurately with their concerned membership. The loss of so many skilled staff as a result of justified fear of continued cuts has ramifications.

Sadly it feels like Groundhog day for me and probably for many others among ex colleagues and those old enough among the local communities. The antagonistic relationship between SCC and local communities that existed in the 80s and 90s is returning with SWT caught in the middle and increasingly being identified as part of the problem.

Again let me emphasise that I continue to believe that the best option is for SWT to continue to manage the SCC estate but not on the present basis. It is not in the interest of Surrey residents for the estate to be broken up and managed by other, national, NGO’s with even less accessible accountability. Breaking up the estate would also have another not often recognised effect in that all the minor sites (of so much importance to their local communities) would slide back in to complete neglect.

I remain dismayed at the betrayal by SCC of their own legacy but at least it has given me a title for a thesis, “The Rise and Fall of the acquisition and management of the countryside by  SCC”.

November dawn


Now is The Time

I am one of those people who likes to know what is going on around the world so I read, listen to or watch the news each day. I have a particular interest in environmental issues and the welfare of the peoples of the world and see how these two areas are intrinsically linked. When you consider the many different ways people barely survive in the world today whilst trying to accommodate to the speed of change in their environment, the natural world simply cannot adapt quickly enough without losing species. Latest figures, 60% loss of the world’s natural species in my lifetime (and I’m not as old as Steve!). In recent weeks there have been a number of reports about global warming, species & habitat loss and a whole variety of depressing news for the natural world. These reports made me think further with the thought of what are world leaders doing to try and address these issues so we can literally; save our planet.

When you look at the worlds political stage today, it appears to be extremely worrying with several big powerful nations having leaders whose environmental records are appalling.

And if I look back over the last few years here in the UK, it looks equally as bad as this small nation with a large population looks like it will continue to lose numbers of species in the forthcoming years.

This loss of species could well be coupled with further land changes, say as a result of floods and rising sea levels, which could affect the species present and possibly damage buildings, roads and many other human settlements. When I first became aware of the global warming crisis nearly 40 years ago many of these things were predicted as likely to happen. Now these things are an actuality and still the world leaders seem to want to kill off the human race by continuing with practices that further damage our planet.
Here in the UK the government seem to belittle the environment and the scientific evidence that proves the serious problems within the environment and the associated species that need them in order to survive. As one of the most comfortable and allegedly most democratic countries in the world and who’s known love of animals, in recent times more knowledge of the needs of our decreasing wildlife are also largely being ignored.
I can highlight this with a point that I was actually involved with recently. When I say I was involved with this you had better note that so were 61,000 other people! This as a result of a petition we all signed asking Michael Gove to revoke the licence he had given some farmers to shoot Ravens, a species that has only just recovered from persecution and started breeding in parts of the UK where it had been absent for over 150 years!
Leaving the argument to one side for the moment, the petition has been sent to Natural England who are the government department that deal with environmental issues of this kind but they themselves, as an organisation, have been decimated as result of major cuts extending back over the last 20 years!

When I last checked the online petition the other day the number of people who had signed the petition had risen to nearly 64,000 and still there had been no response from Natural England. When you look at it, it doesn’t seem very democratic and it seems the wishes of 64,000 people are being ignored by their own government. If you look a little closer we see further evidence of how little this government does to try and deal with serious environmental issues. Since 2010 the budget for Natural England has been cut by 50% and their workforce has been massively reduced with many of the workers now being seconded to work on the mess they call Brexit. We are living in very troubled times.

I’ve been highly frustrated by government decisions when dealing with environmental issues for many years and despite my example of the problems it seems that there has been some awakening within the people to tell the government that they are seriously worried about the wildlife and the environment in general. I know I’m repeating myself when I ask everybody to get involved by telling your MP and signing petitions to try and stop the collision course our planet seems to be on, by expressing your worries to the politicians and hopefully they may start to listen to us.


My place of peace

Winters coming

I suspect most people have a special place or a room where they find a level of peace. For me , though the countryside in general often facilitates, a hill top in south west Surrey is my favoured spot.

Some years ago my then boss, Gavin, asked me to pop down and have a look at a small countryside site a few miles outside Farnham which had been recently added to the list of places managed by SWT on behalf of SCC. I found a small rural car park at the bottom of a wooded hill with a summit that presented magnificent views across to Hampshire and Hindhead.

Overcast Autumn View

Frankly it was like finding a little secret jewel. Yes I know that lots of people have enjoyed this special place before but the personal surprise at such a discovery is always a joy.

A couple of days later I was visiting my dad in hospital and whilst chatting mentioned my happy couple of hours walking up and round Crooksbury Hill. At the point where I explained my pleasure at discovering somewhere “new” he chuckled and said “but you have seen it before” which led to insistent denial from me and then amazed capitulation. My paternal grandfather died when my dad was young and we only have 1 photo of him, Andrew Ben Fry, with my dad, Stan and his Mum. This photograph had hung at my family home for years and this photo was taken on the top of Crooksbury Hill!

My dad and his parents

Evidently they would walk from Farnham on a fine Sunday and picnic. In the early 30s my grandfather was a baker and few people owned cars so you walked or bused. Quite a walk, particularly as my dads sister, Doris, was often with them and I suspect a bakers picnic meant plenty to carry.

He and I were pretty certain that the photograph was taken facing north with the distant Hogs Back just visible as the distant skyline. Following my dads death a few months after the conversation we scattered his ashes and put up a bench on the spot.

My dad was passionate about the countryside, Surrey’s in particular, and celebrating him in this manner is still important to our family and many of his friends.

The countryside in surrey has been treasured by its residents and visitors for decades hence it is sad that SCC feels the need to reduce funding management of their legacy to an unsustainable level.

Gone are the days it seems where there was such pride in the authorities work that officers might be celebrated with permanent memorials like the OS triangulation pillar on the summit  of Crooksbury Hill.

Plaque celebrating Mr Durrant

Beautifully restored the plinth also includes

Viewfinder unveiled 23/7/69

Worth a visit? Absolutely. Worth celebrating conservationists like my dad and Mr Durrant. Absolutely, as a reminder that though the view may change peoples needs remain remarkably constant.

There’s lots more that I will return to regarding Crooksbury Hill but for now I will mention one last thing, or should I really say confess 1 last thing? Close to the bottom of the hill is a small village called The Sands blessed with my favourite pub, The Barley Mow. Walk up the hill then eat a delicious meal with a pint, can’t be beaten.