The River Wey has a rich variety of wildlife with thriving communities of animals, birds, insects and plants. There are a good many organisations and government bodies taking an active interest in maintaining and preserving the habitats in which they live. Many are manned by volunteers who regularly give up their time to get their hands dirty and help in everything from foliage clearance and digging drainage channels to helping undertake wildlife surveys.
Of 61 Government monitoring sites around the country the A3 kerbside measurements matched those at Camden (London) and Glasgow. The highest was recorded on Marylebone Road (London).
The A3 registered second highest for the pollutant PM10 (emitted by diesel engines) which causes breathing difficulties including asthma.
"It's a fantastic result for Surrey, where people really are committed to a better environment for everyone," said Nicola Bennett, sustainability manager at SCRIB.
Figures from the report show that paper and card make up for 55% of the recycled materials per household annually, with glass at 24%, and plastic and steel at 11% and 7%. Source: Surrey Advertiser 20th February 2009
Surrey County Council in its own climate change strategy, which bizarrely runs alongside the commissioned strategy, identifies new housing developments and transport as the biggest contributors to CO2 commissions in the county. 60% of the council's own emissions were emitted from schools; 20% from its 'corporate portfolio'; 17% from streetlights.
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Wide Variety of Wildlife
The Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley have established a wildlife area on the banks of the river and have monitored 350 species of plant life, 100 species of fungi, 1,400 species of invertebrates, 55 species of birds and 10 of fish.
Along the full length of the Wey this diversity of wildlife broadens as the landscapes blend from a kaleidoscope of heathland to woodland and watermeadow. In recognition of the importance of these habitats numerous Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Nature Reserves have been established providing especial protection for many parts of the original River Wey away from the National Trust protected navigations.
The Surrey Hills
Much of the Wey Valley falls within the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB) which was designated in 1958, the first in southern England, and is one of 36 nationally protected landscapes in England enjoying equal landscape status and protection to a National Park.
The Surrey Hills AONB extends across the chalk North Downs running from Farnham in the west, above Guildford, Dorking and Reigate to Oxted in the east. The Greensand Hills are to the south and these include Black Down, the Devil's Punch Bowl and Leith Hill. Boundary marker posts can be found at many points to draw attention to the AONB.
The Surrey Hills Partnership set up a Joint Advisory Committee with the Countryside Agency in 1998 to raise the scheme’s profile and to achieve its aim of conserving the natural beauty of the landscape within its boundaries. The committee is made up of representatives from six local authorities, the National Trust and the Countryside Agency. Specialist advisory members also provide support.
The Partnership has distributed (February 2007) £80,000 to local initiatives focused on conserving the natural beauty of the conservation area. The money has been made available through a sustainable development fund administered by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). The projects include the Surrey Hills All Terrain Mountain Bike Tours run by Richard Kelly to promote responsible off-road cycling and the building of a log store next to the Scout hut of St Peter's and St Paul's in Godalming.
The Partnership have announced (October 2007) their intention, in common with other AONBs across the country, to launch an independent society which would work in a complementary way to the statutory organisation overseeing the AONB. The Surrey Hills Society will operate as a charitable organisation and would seek to raise funds to help combat the constant threat from land development and traffic. The society would also help raise awareness of the Surrey Hills through events including walks and talks.
To mark the 50th anniversary of Surrey Hills being designated as an AONB the Surrey Hills Board are planning to stage events and exhibitions in 2008 with a particular focus on how the hills looked back in the 1950s. The celebrations also coincide with the European Year of Food and Farming which provides the opportunity to highlight how local communities and landscapes have been shaped by farming over the years. The Partnership are asking (February 2008) for photographs depicting farming in the Surrey Hills during the 1950s. MORE INFORMATION HERE
The inaugural meeting of the Surrey Hills Off-Road Working Group was held in January 2009 in a bid to co-ordinate efforts by off-road enthusiasts, landowners, conservationists and the police to eliminate the problem of 4x4 drivers and off-road bikers ‘trashing’ the countryside.
This first meeting has resulted in the commissioning of a survey of tracks in the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to determine the extent of the problem and to identify persistent trouble spots. BOATS are legally accessible byways but the problem is exacerbated when off-roaders leave these tracks and cut across the countryside damaging trees and wildlife habitats. Surrey has the largest number of BOATS in the region.
A report released (January 2009) by Surrey County Council revealed that despite spending £650,000 on repairing the county’s rural byways many are still in a sorry state. The report was issued in response to criticism that the council was not being proactive in legislating against inappropriate use of the byways, and especially the Byways Open to All Traffic (BOATs). Concerns have long been expressed about the damage being inflicted by 4x4s and motorcycles on these rural routes. A pilot scheme was run by police and conservationists in December 2008 to discourage users from veering off the paths. The council have now agreed to close BOATs suffering bad damage, repair them and then leave the closed to motorised traffic. There are 129 BOATs in Surrey with many in the Wey Valley.
The Surrey Hills is to benefit from a new framework launched (July 2009) by planners. A management plan has been established for the Surrey Hills AONB outlining a range of policies to increase protection for the landscape, with enforcement by statutory powers. The plan adopted by Surrey County Council and district councils including Waverley and Guildford will give planning officers the power to judge planning applications in the context of Surrey Hills policies giving more leverage to conserve the countryside. As well as protecting the landscape these policies also seek to protect communities and the rural economy.
The Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is to benefit from the efforts of the Surrey Hills Off-road Working Group who were formed during 2009 to help combat irresponsible off road driving. The group has posted signs (October 2009) warning against illegal off-roading at access points to tracks running through the AONB to try and prevent the considerable damage being caused. The notices are a last bid attempt to prevent permanent closure of many of the tracks.
Local author and former news editor of the Surrey Advertiser has published (January 2010) a book exploring the history and characteristics of the Surrey Hills. Using her personal knowledge of the area based on many years of exploring the hills on horseback, A Portrait of the Surrey Hills (ISBN 9780709085614 Published by Robert Hale Ltd) provides a thorough insight into the area including its archaeological, cultural and industrial history.
The influx of writers, painters, scientists and composers into the Surrey Hills when the railway reached Guildford in 1845 very firmly on the map.
The Surrey Hills Society organised a Tramper Ramble (May 2010) whereby disabled nature lovers could enjoy the use of all-terrain buggies to explore the North Downs Way. The Ramblers were accompanied by a member of the Surrey Wildlife Trust who provided an expert overview of flora and fauna. It is intended to repeat the event at least once a year.
Natural England, who are responsible for preserving England's countryside, appointed consultants (February 2012) to assess whether the Surrey Hills AONB should be extended. If this happened extra funding would be likely.
Along the Wey Valley conservation groups successfully provide protection to the river banks and meadows of the Wey proper, not wholly possible on the two Wey Navigations, which through their construction and management for navigation disrupt and destroy wildlife habitats. Those parts of the river untouched by man’s interference, especially in meanders and courses of the river bypassed by the Navigations, provide good opportunities for wetland conservation.
River banks are left wild in nature reserves, and open water is dredged to prevent infilling from the edge and eventual drying out. This process is regularly used to protect ponds and lakes. Many woods have over time lost ponds, both natural and those dug in medieval and Tudor times to provide fish ponds, and these have been re-dug to add to the habitat variety. Steps are also taken to protect wetlands or ‘mires’, and there are many examples of these along the Wey Valley.
The Moor Park Nature Reserve on the Wey near Farnham in Surrey is a healthy alder carr reserve. Such wetland reserves however need careful management, including the cutting down of reedbeds to prevent them invading open water. The living reeds impede water movement and enable sediment to build up, and dead reeds fall to the bottom forming peat which would eventually completely clog the area of water.
A number of conservation groups including Surrey Wildlife Trust and the National Trust have already made a significant contribution to the restoration and preventing any further decline of water meadows along the Wey Valley. Without their efforts and those of the enthusiastic volunteers working with them that give up their time, the Wey may have ended up in the tragic position now facing water meadows in Suffolk. Constable painted several of his famous rural scenes there, and where today a mere 250 hectares remain.
Godalming Wetland Nature Reserve
At first response it may not seem to be an idyllic location but the Godalming Wetland Nature Reserve by the Godalming Sewage Treatment Works provides a quiet backwater for a great number of birds. MORE HERE
The Surrey Wildlife Trust (www.surreywildlifetrust.co.uk) based in Woking, Surrey is a member of the national Wildlife Trusts network and relies on volunteers to help manage the reserves under its management. In June 2005 the Trust recruited its 10,000th member illustrating just how much concern is shared with local populations across the region to protect their natural heritage.
The Surrey Trust manages over 2,500 hectares (10,000 acres) of Surrey Countryside with 500 hectares (1,250 acres) of this managed exclusively for wildlife. Nature Reserves in the Wey Valley include Moor Park (GR: SU867459); Puttenham Common (GR: SU910455) near Farnham; Newlands Corner (GR: TQ044494) & Silent Pool near Guildford (GR: TQ060485); Papercourt Meadows (GR: TQ029596) & Marshes (GR: TQ070675); St Martha’s Hill (GR: TQ031485) and Wisley & Ockham Commons (GR: TQ080590) were added in July 2005.
Every summer the Trust arranges events designed to bring people closer to nature, and to gain a better understanding of how habitats and wildlife are so dependent upon each other. During 2005 this included guided walks, accompanied bird watching, practical workshops introducing beginners to nature photography and field archaeology, and even a bat hunt using a bat detector and a training day for dormouse workers. A warm welcome is given to new volunteers to help out on the Trust’s well organised Work Parties around their various reserves.
The Surrey Wildlife Trust celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009. Volunteers carry out conservation work on 80 countryside sites representing 4% of the county’s total land area. The trust reacts to around 600 planning applications every year, stepping in where it feels that development could negatively affect wildlife. The SWT has identified the next big challenge to be faced over the coming decades will be the onset of more housing in the government’s South East Plan.
The charity raised £5m last year through grants and donations, and have had a boost in 2009 with an annual grant of £200,000 from Natural England to restore the county’s heathland.
The organisation started as the Surrey Naturalists’ trust in 1959 with 100 members. Today the membership has grown to 26,930 – 2.6% of the county’s population. An average of 7,000 school children attend the trusts centres and educational activities every year.
The trust has applied for planning permission (May 2009) to add another temporary office unit at their HQ in Pirbright to cater for the extra staff needed to manage a new green space project made possible by an £800,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The four-year scheme will need four new full-time volunteers to be based at the offices.
The Prime Minister Gordon Brown invited more than 40 volunteers from the Surrey Wildlife Trust to a reception at 10 Downing Street (July 2009). The events was to highlight the contribution that these and other volunteers make to the conservation sector.
More than 40,000 people volunteer for wildlife trusts across the country and many undertake frontline practical work on land or sea. Anyone interested in volunteering for the Surrey wildlife trust can contact Anna via email@example.com
Waverley's full-time countryside rangers maintain the 1,600 ha of woodland, grassland and heathland that make up the parts of the Wey Valley that fall within their administrative boundaries. Volunteers are always welcomed to give a hand with coppicing, tree planting and scrub clearance. No particular skills are needed, merely an enthusiasm for the outdoors and a willingness to get your hands dirty.
Corporate groups also join in and provide teams of enthusiastic volunteers who benefit from the team spirit and manage to cover a lot of ground in a short time. In the winter of 2005 teams of employees from the HSBC bank went to Frensham Common and helped Ranger Steve Webster clear 15 acres in seven hours of Scots Pine saplings which were infiltrating this nationally important area of heathland. Alone the same work would have taken Steve two weeks to achieve.
To find out more go to Waverley Action for Wildlife where you will also find an informative newsletter you can download.
The appointment (May 2006) of a new Chief Executive to the Surrey Wildlife Trust has generated a great deal of controversy among conservationists. Nigel Davenport was formerly the director of shooting at the Countryside Alliance (CA). The League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) have raised concerns over a potential conflict of interest in the trust which is dedicated to protecting wildlife. The West Badger Group (WBG) has publicly stated that it intends to review its support to the trust on the grounds that the CA actively campaigned for the culling of badgers.
Davenport worked for nine years with Blue Cross UK, the animal charity. He is also a member of the British Deer Society which promotes the welfare and conservation of wild deer.
English Nature has a particular focus on ancient woodland in the Wey Valley, and aided by a recently launched (July 2005) new policy from the government’s Forestry Ministry, which puts native and ancient woodlands at its focal point, is intent on providing sympathetic management and public awareness of these ancient habitats. Some of our ancient woods date back at least 1,600 years and provide habitats for rare flowers, ferns, insects and mosses. English Nature intend to reduce the dominance of conifers that shade out the woodland flora and replace them with oak, ash and beech. The new EC scheme, Environmental Stewardship implemented by the Rural Development Service will improve the environment around ancient woodlands by providing buffer strips next to veteran trees.
English Nature run the Thursley Nature Reserve where they have undertaken pioneering work including the re-introduction of rare butterfly species. The reserve was virtually destroyed by a massive heathland fire (July 2006) which police suspect was the work of an arsonist and it is feared that the reserve will take decades to return to its original state.
The Forestry Commission
The Forestry Commission maintain sensitive habitats across the Wey Valley including the Alice Holt Forest near Farnham. The Commission encourages a sympathetic conservation and woodland management policy that actively encourages the public to explore their properties to experience the beauty and learn about the habitats of forests. Their ‘Active Woods’ initiative provides a wide ranging programme of events which includes guided walks, wildlife watching, fungi forays and children’s activities.
The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) at Wisley and The Wildlife Trusts have joined forces (June 2006) to launch an initiative to encourage members of the public to develop their own wildlife gardens at home to help wildlife survive and thrive at a time of great habitat loss and climate change.
There are 15 million domestic gardens in Britain, each a potential haven for dozens of wildlife species.
Constructing a pond, even in a small urban garden, will provide a habitat for all manner of species including amphibians, insects and wildflowers. This will widen your garden's wildlife appeal. Fish are not part of the equation in a wildlife pond as they're carnivorous and will eat frog spawn and newts.
Providing birdseed will not only encourage wild birds to visit your garden but will also greatly help in their welfare and breeding. Modern bird foods are specialised high-energy feeds such as sunflower seeds, which are extremely effective in attracting birds. An example of how domestic feeding has benefited the revival of bird species is in the increasing numbers of lesser-spotted woodpeckers and nuthatches that now visit domestic gardens. Similarly a beautiful songbird, the goldfinch, is making a comeback in urban areas. In the wild they favour thistledown but the introduction of niger seed, which comes from a plant native to Ethiopia (Guizotia abyssinica) and which is high in nutritious oil content, has prove an absolute boon for the species.
Insects, including butterflies, can be easily attracted to your garden by introducing wildlife-friendly plants on which they can feed. A favourite with butterflies generally is the butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii). A dozen or species will flock to it including red admirals, peacocks, painted ladies and small tortoiseshells. Insects attracted to a pond will also travel through your garden including damselflies and dragonflies, and flowers will attract honeybees and bumblebees. Wildflowers are wildly available through retail outlets as seeds or young plants. The addition of bluebells, primroses, cowslips, dog violets and wild garlic will add colour to the garden and attract insect life.
Other recommendations are to cut back on the use of chemicals, especially pesticides, because of course all insects are part of the natural food chain; to leave part of your lawn uncut as long grass can be beneficial to many species; and leave dead wood on trees.
The RHS and Wildlife Trusts have provided an information source through their www.wildaboutgardens.org website and with their 300-page handbook Wildlife Gardening for Everyone (Think Books £12.99).
In woodland conservation areas careful management provides balanced and long term protected habitats. You will often encounter, for example, fallen trees and boughs that have been left in situ. This on the surface appears to be neglect but in reality these rotting trees provide new nutrients released through the decomposition process, and provide perfect habitats for beetles and fungi that break down dead timber. Woodland that has sycamore and rhododendron (which was often planted as pheasant cover) present is cleared of these non-native species and which provide insignificant value to native wildlife. A good example given by the Wildlife Trusts is that whilst an oak tree can host up to 284 different insect species, a sycamore would be attractive to only 15.
A feature in the Independent on Sunday (May 2005) highlighted the promising signs of a return to health for many of the water meadow habitats in Britain after what it describes as ‘years of devastation’. Popularised by the artist John Constable, riverside meadows provided a classic romantic view of rural England, and this romantic association is certainly reflected throughout the Wey Valley.
Praise is heaped on conservationists who have fought against major obstacles to turn around the long decline of these rich and beautiful habitats, and have succeeded in reintroducing wildlife including birds, insects and indigenous plants. Since the Second World War more than one million hectares of water meadow have been lost to agriculture and building developments.
The British Trust for Ornithology have published a report that highlights the fact that over the last two decades the number of yellow wagtails found in wet grasslands had plummeted by a staggering 65%. Similar declines had been recorded for other birds dependent upon these wet habitats including the curlew, oystercatcher and lapwing. The new ‘Environmental Stewardship’ grants provided under the reformed Common Agricultural Policy is likely to provide a new impetus to wetland recovery when farmers will receive subsidies worth millions of pounds to recreate natural river banks, reseed waterside meadows and take steps to make their farms more attractive to wildlife. In the scheme, farmers will stand to earn £355 for every hectare of restored wetland.
The Wey Valley relies on a large catchment area to ensure that the river and the navigation carries enough water along its full course to support the rich variety of wildlife found here. The current debate over climate change continues and whether or not the Wey is being directly affected is not under discussion on these pages. However facts on the ground that the Wey is directly suffering a worsening water shortage are indisputable.
The Environment Agency released (January 2006) details of a far reaching study into the catchment areas of all the rivers in England and highlighted the River Wey as one of the 10% of catchment areas that the agency identified as being at high risk of extremely low and worsening water flow. There is particular concern at the flow rate at Tilford where this winter water levels are approaching the lowest levels ever recorded.
The agency has identified concerns that a contributory factor is excessive extraction from the river by licensed extractors such as water companies and farmers. The debate now focuses on the need to reduce extraction or even in some cases revoke extraction licences.
Fish in the River Wey and its tributaries are particularly at risk during periods of reduced water levels as oxygen levels drop and toxic algae bloom begins to flourish.
Across England rainfall in January 2006 was below half the long-term average and the forecast for February is mostly dry. River and groundwater levels across much of southern England are at historic lows at a time of year when they should be at their healthiest. Two rivers in the Thames region, the Ash and Mimram have stretches that have completely run dry.
The real issue perhaps rests with us at home. In the past 20 years average water use per person has increased from 140 to 160 litres per day, and this increase in demand shows no signs of abating. The Environment Agency is campaigning for the water companies to be forced to install water meters into homes which the utility companies have been resisting due to the high costs involved.
The Environment Agency has called (February 2006) for all water companies in south-east England to introduce hosepipe bans to prevent a situation where more extreme water-saving measures will have to be enforced. Four out of the nine water utilities already have some form of hosepipe ban.
A MORI poll conducted in October 2005 showed the high level of support from the public over drought warnings. The survey covered water customers in hosepipe ban areas in Southern England. It revealed that 84% supported the use of hosepipe bans, that 96% said that they make an effort to comply to the restrictions, and that 89% would take other action to conserve water.
One way to overcome the need to regularly water your garden is to bed-in drought-tolerant plants. There are numerous organisations that can advise on the best plants to use. Here are a few clickable links providing information online:
South East Water have an online water usage calculator to give you an idea as to how much water your household consumes every year.
The UK pressure group Waterwise have published (July 2006) a study which they claim shows that the use of dishwashers to clean dishes is far more water-efficient than the old fashioned manual method. A water-efficient dishwasher used an average of 12 - 16 litres of water per wash whereas washing and rinsing dishes by hand used as much as 63 litres. Their research has revealed that just under 30% of UK households have a dishwasher. An increase to 40% will save 75 million litres of water everyday Waterwise have calculated.
Waterwise did not publish associated energy usage figures. The study was funded by a dishwasher manufacturer and a detergent-maker.
As the Wey Valley and southern England in general face the worst drought in 100 years there are signs that we're taking heed. The water companies reported (July 2006) that a total of 300 million fewer litres were used during June.
A Guildford customer of Thames Water has become so disgruntled with what he sees as the utility company's continued inability to stop water mains leakages that he has launched (July 2006) his own public awareness campaign. Andrew Morrell has set up a web site on which visitors can use his 'Thames Waster' calculator to work out how much less they should pay in water bills to the company should they agree with his view that Thames Water currently leaks 33% of its output per day.
Thames Water claim that they are meeting water leakage targets and have said they will pursue any customers who hold back on part-payments due.
The BBC's Panorama programme are scheduling a documentary about water leaks and have approached Morrell to contribute.
BEAT THE DROUGHT
The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) annual report (October 2006) expresses concern that too little is being done to secure the UKs water supply and they predict a huge shortfall in 20 years time which will be particularly acute in South East England. The Wey Valley was subject to hosepipe bans during the summer in order to conserve supplies and the River Wey suffered from low water levels which were particularly sever in the upper reaches of the river above Tilford.
The Institution has recommended that more sewage effluent should be recycled as drinking water and a 20% increase in water prices should be levied to provide funds for improvements. Investment ICE says should be made in new reservoirs, desalination plants to enable sea water to be used, and pipelines from wet regions like mid-Wales to the needy South East.
Water conservation groups are not convinced by the sewage recommendations and believe more should be done to concentrate on the public's best use of the natural water cycle. Waterwise believe consumer water management should be improved with the use of 'save-a-flush bags' for cisterns, aerated shower heads and flow restrictors in taps.
Pressure continues on the water companies to improve their core services including stemming the loss of water through leaky pipes.
Maintaining the quality of water flowing into and along the full length of the River Wey is always a prime concern. One action group, PAN UK who focus on reducing the use of pesticides, in 2004 highlighted the effects of pesticides finding their way into the river. It reported that the Environment Agency over the consecutive summers of 2002 and 2003 had found high levels of chemicals in water samples. These included chemicals used in nit shampoos, scabies lotions, insecticides and domestic cleaning agents. The Wey had been experiencing reduced stocks of fish and a decline in wildlife over the same period.
PAN UK launched a web site in 2004 providing useful advice on the safe disposal of garden pesticides to make the public aware of the extreme danger to wildlife of the disposal of these chemicals down domestic drains, or poured onto the ground. (www.pesticidedisposal.org.)
The Environment Agency provide statistics on water pollution. They cite sources of pollution and types of pollution as:
The Agency provide a summary of pollution incidents they have investigated year by year on their website. (www.environment-agency.gov.uk/)
They also have a 24-hour pollution hotline on 0800 807060 to allow members of the public to report incidences of the environment being polluted.
Suspected animal and bird poisoning can be reported to the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme (WIIS) on 0800 321600. Run by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) WIIS investigates the deaths of wildlife, including beneficial insects, where there is evidence that pesticide poisoning may be involved. The Scheme is used to monitor pesticide use and evidence can be used to enforce legislation on the use of pesticides to protect humans, the food, environment and animals.
It may seem a little contradictory for The Environment Agency within a few weeks (January - March 2006) to be warning of low water levels across the Wey Valley in one breath, and then of the dangers of flooding in the next. However much of the River Wey and Wey Navigations can be prone to flooding, even during times of drought, which can often be sudden following particularly heavy downpours across the Wey's large water catchment area.
In March 2006 The Environment Agency launched a new national campaign to raise awareness to the dangers of flooding, and provided a particularly local focus for the Wey Valley.
Guildford town has a long history of suffering the destructive effects of the Wey bursting its banks, with severe flooding as recently as 2000. There are numerous other hotspots all along the water course too where residents are under particular threat. The Environment Agency provides an online capability for residents to enter their postcode and immediately see on a Flood Map as to whether they're likely to suffer from flooding.
If they find they're living within the zone liable to flooding the Agency is encouraging residents to sign up to their new Floodline Warnings Direct service. The service will provide an early warning when the flood threat is high with a message to the subscriber's phone. The Floodline - 0845 988 1188 - will also provide general advice on flooding and how to protect yourself. Useful information is also available on The Environment Agency web site.
Heavy rains in the second week of October 2006 accompanied violent thunderstorms prompting the Environment Agency to announce 11 Flood Watch alerts (1) across the country after the emergency services received hundreds of calls about flooding and lightning strikes.
In the Wey Valley one of the Agency's Flood Watch alerts was applied to the River Wey and her tributaries including the Tilling Bourne and the Hoe Stream as the heavy rainfall was disgorged quickly from surrounding hills and fields. Rail services were also seriously disrupted with cancellations on services around Guildford.
(1) Environment Agency Flood Watch alert warns that flooding is 'expected' in low-lying areas. A Flood Warning alerts to a certainty of flooding.
The Wey Valley suffers amongst the highest rates of CO2 emissions in Britain.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) released (April 2006) their findings into a study of emissions of new cars and lay claim to the fact that these had been cut by 10.7% between 1997 and 2004. Naturally the report sparked some enthusiastic debate with environmental groups stating that car manufacturers are falling well short of a voluntary target to reduce pollution.
The course of the River Wey crosses three English counties all of which fall into high levels of CO2 emissions. The SMMT provided data based on county boundaries of the emissions per g/km measured against the average CO2 emissions from new cars. Surrey ranks in the second highest band (175.0 - 179.9 g/km) with London and two other counties. Hampshire and West Sussex are in the third of the five bands (170.0 - 174.9 g/km). Warwickshire was the highest and hogged the top band (180.0 - 191.0 g/km) all to itself, the county's plight put down to the fact that Land Rover is based there and many of their employees have taken advantage of generous staff discounts for their 4x4s.
Nationally Britain continued to have emissions above the European average last year (2005). In western Europe the average emission for new cars was 9 g/km lower than in the UK.
The government appointed Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) group has released (June 2006) an alarming report into the threat to the environment from the rapid encroachment of new housing and allied infrastructure.
The government plans to build millions of new homes across Britain with targets of up to 200,000 dwellings constructed per year over the next decade. The plan focuses firmly on the southeast including the Wey Valley to cope with soaring demand.
The study of over 500 of the most vulnerable plants, animals, birds and reptiles reveals that most species are either in decline or not recovering despite a national plan launched 10 years ago to save them.
A particular example of the problems facing wildlife in the southeast is illustrated by the loss of gorse and heather-rich lowland heaths which are home to nightjars and woodlarks, rare sand lizards and smooth snakes as well as rich insect life. The target had been to create 6,000 hectares more of this type of habitat but only a third of that has been achieved.
Environmental groups are up in arms at government plans to scrap ecological assessments at development sites.
The report does highlight some successes including the reintroduction of dormice, pool frogs and plants into areas where they had been lost. This has included the enrichment of of tens of thousands of acres of denuded margins around cereal fields.
The three-yearly update of the BAP shows only one in five of the 45 vulnerable habitats, and one in ten of 475 priority species, are now increasing in numbers. Four out of 10 habitats and 25% of species are still decreasing.
Agricultural environmental schemes have helped farmland habitats and species there make good progress. Other key threats identified include habitat loss due to agriculture, poor management, invasive species and pollution.
The report calls for more funding and tougher planning rules against schemes that threaten biodiversity. One suggested measure includes biodiversity targets in performance criteria for local authorities.
Experts have warned that Britain is unlikely to hit its other key biodiversity target - to get 95 percent of all Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) into good condition by 2010.
Heatwave in the Wey Valley
It seems that the experiences of last year are going to be repeated during 2007 according to the Met Office. JUMP HERE
The highest temperature in Britain in the month of July is now held by the RHS Garden in Wisley - a sweltering 97.7°F (36.5°C) - on the 19th July 2006. The previous record of 96.8°F (36°C) was recorded in 1911 at Epsom in Surrey. As temperatures continue to soar across most of the south these levels are expected to be quickly outstripped as the summer progresses.
Nearby Ripley Infant School joined many other across the valley by closing as their buildings were not built to combat these levels of temperature.
The South East Ambulance Trust said that parts of the region had seen an increase of 23% in call levels compared to the same period last year. The increase was largely down to patients needing treatment for heat stroke and dehydration.
There are growing concerns over the welfare of wildlife during the heatwave which has already been struggling to adapt to the valley's drought.
The Met Office have confirmed (October 2006) that the Wey Valley experienced one of the hottest summers on record. The July record at Wisley aside the whole season was also dry with 82% of the average rainfall and 23% additional hours of sunshine.
(A) Godalming resident and leading Met Office climate research scientist David Parker has confirmed fears that 2007 is likely to break new records. The prediction is that there is a 60% chance that this year will be even hotter, with the main factor behind the prediction being the onset last year of El Niño which warms the eastern Pacific's equatorial waters on a two to seven year cycle.
The forecast reinforces the need for world leaders to act to stem emissions of gases such as carbon dioxide that many scientists say cause global warming, the head of the climate change programme at WWF UK in Godalming, Keith Allott, has stated.
The European Commission introduced a directive in the late seventies to provide protection for wild birds. Special Protection Areas (SPA) status was given to heathland in Guildford to protect the habitat of the rare and endangered Dartford Warbler, as well as other species including the woodlark and nightjar.
A 5km exclusion zone is in place around a SPA effectively preventing the building of any new housing developments that would be close enough to have a detrimental effect on the habitat. The benefits include deterring ramblers, cyclists and dog walkers from crossing a SPA which they would otherwise be tempted to do if it was close to their homes.
The local council is under severe pressure to meet Government targets on providing affordable housing in the area by the assigned deadline, with failure to do so resulting in loss of funding. The Guildford Borough Council (GBC) has until October 2006 to have affordable housing plans in place.
English Nature's 'Delivery Plan', which will provide the blueprint controlling the issuing of planning permission but providing a way of allowing building within the 5km exclusion zone, will be out to consultation but has raised concerns over an escalation in costs. The consultation, which will run until August 2006, is part of the Draft Thames Basin Heath SPA Interim Avoidance Strategy which many of the Wey Valley's SPAs fall within.
The plan allows for three buffer zones to be applied to protect a SPA.
This in effect would allow housing to be built within 5km of a SPA provided actions were taken to provide realistic protection for the threatened habitat, the extent of these actions reducing the further away the zone is. The key to this protection is for the developer to provide at their own cost an alternative recreation space where, for example dog walkers living at the new housing could exercise.
There are six SPA designated areas in the borough of Guildford.
The strategy would mean £1 million pounds having to be spent on improving accessibility to Riverside in Guildford and two other open spaces within the county but outside of the Wey Valley.
Guildford Borough Council propose levying a charge on developers of between £577 and £2,238 for each house they build, depending upon number of bedrooms and zone proximity to the SPA. This money would be used to secure new areas for recreational use. The council would also have to inject an initial £50,000 into the plan.
GBC plan to permit about 1,900 new homes within 5km of any SPA over the next five years, representing a population increase of 3,800 people. That would require 42 hectares of 'avoidance space'.
Some local villages including Puttenham and Ripley lie within 5km of a SPA but will not be covered by the avoidance plan effectively preventing the building of any new housing developments there.
Some GBC councillors are fighting the plan which they feel is being rushed and will result in an imperfect 'interim plan' becoming the norm with the result that developers will be put off from investing in the area.
However the official line from the council is one of dogged determination to get the plan through.
Pesticide Campaign Stalls
The poor application of pesticides has its human victims too. The one-woman campaign of Georgina Down has put the concerns over the effects of pesticides back in the spotlight, although her original objectives look set to be defeated.
Downs lived as a child in a house in Sussex with agriculturally active fields all around. By the time she was 18 her body hit a crisis point over what she argues were the symptoms of unwittingly ingesting clouds of crop sprays that were carried over into the garden where she played as a child. She has been diagnosed as having chronic osteoporosis and neurological problems.
Downs has been campaigning for buffer zones to be established around rural homes providing a gap of at least one mile from crop-spraying activity.
The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) concluded in an investigation (2005) that spraying fields was a potential health risk and could be responsible for diseases including cancer, Parkinson's and ME. The RCEP recommended buffer zones of a minimum of 5 metres to be imposed as a precautionary measure.
The Minister of State for sustainable farming and food is expected to announce (July 2006) that more research on the effects of pesiticide sprays is needed before a decision can be made on what level of control should be imposed.
Downs' campaign has attracted a lot of attention, and support. She now maintains a database of cases where British families have reported mystery ailments and who all live near fields that are regularly sprayed with pesticides. The database now holds details of more than 900 cases.
Downs also cites a blatant anomaly whereby farmers are advised by manufacturers to don protective clothing when applying the pesticides, and yet the farmer is under no legal obligation to warn local residents of when they are going to spray or what chemicals they will be using. At least a warning could enable residents to shut doors and windows and stay clear of the fields until the spraying is over.
In early July 2006 the EU has announced that it intends to ensure that member states take steps to ensure that residents near cropland should be alerted before spraying. Studies suggest that particles of pesticides have been detected up to 3 miles away from sprayed fields. In America seven states require no-spray zones of up to 2.5 miles around schools.
Funding Shock for
Plans to beef up England's efforts to protect its ever expanding list of endangered species look to be in tatters after the Government announced plans to slash a new wildlife agency's budget.
The decision, which will have a direct impact on the Wey Valley, jeopardises the launch in October 2006 of a new organisation to take over from English Nature on responsibilities for looking after wildlife. Natural England would look after Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), of which there are many throughout the valley, and implement species recovery programmes. The agency would also be responsible for landscape and access work, including maintaining footpath networks and implementing the 'right-to-roam, currently the responsibility of the Countryside Agency.
The decision by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to massively cut back on Natural England's budget seriously undermines the new agency's capabilities.
The Independent newspaper has had sight of a letter written by Sir Martin Doughty, the chairman of Natural Engalnd, to the Environment Secretary protesting about the cuts and warning of the consequences.
The cuts will seriously jeopardise the agency's ability to achieve two key government environmental targets - getting 95% of SSSIs in good condition by 2010 and to reverse the 40-year decline of farmland birds including the threatened skylark, grey partridge and turtledove by 2020.
The extent of cuts in funding to wildlife and environmental agencies is becoming clear. Reports of Defra cutting their annual budgets by 5% (£200m) due to spending 'overruns' have emerged (August 2006). Most of the deficit is blamed on the costs of correcting the problems at the Farm Payments Agency when the introduction of of a new EU subsidy went awry earlier this year.
As well as directly impacting on Natural England the belt tightening will deprive other agencies including the Environment Agency, the Sustainable Development Commission, British Waterways and the Rural Development Service of vital funds The Environment Agency is aprticularly concerned by the loss of £24m which will slow down activity on maintaining existing flood defences. MORE ON LOCAL FLOOD DEFENCE FEARS
Leading environmental pressure groups including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have joined with high profile wildlife welfare organisations to condemn the cuts, which they see as extraordinary given the new threats the countryside is facing.
"At a time when our environment faces the unprecedented threat of climate change . . . it is extraordinary that Defra should suffer a £200m shortfall," said Simon Reddy, Greenpeace policy director.
"Most of Defra's energies are already spread too thinly," said Tony Jupiter, executive director of Friends of the Earth.
Dr Mark Avery, RSPB conservation director said: "The RSPB fears we are about to enter an era of broken promises on wildlife."
British waterways and rivers including the River Wey are increasingly being threatened by alien species that are overwhelming native wildlife. These dangerous foreigners are slipping into the country undetected in ballast water or hanging on to the hulls of ships, on imported plants or deliberately imported for farming.
Thames Water reported (October 2006) that their engineers had cleared almost a thousand tonnes of zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) that had originated from Eastern Europe and were clogging the water pipes of London. These mussels also create havoc in power stations, on boats and fire protection systems. Unlike our native freshwater mussels this species grows on top of each other in thick layers that block channels and ducts.
Another unwanted guest is the American signal crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus) which is colonising British rivers with devastating consequences. The crayfish burrows into river banks which undermines and causes their collapse. More worryingly the signal crayfish has been found to carry a fungal plague whose spores spread through the water and infect our native species which include the white-clawed crayfish.
Also causing river bank collapse is the Chinese mitten crab (Eriocheir sinensis), and the recently detected arrival of the Asian clam is causing concern by its colonisation of river beds which are becoming clogged. Not yet in Britain but having reached the Netherlands from the Caspian and Black Seas is the 'pink peril', a shrimp species that attacks and kills all small creatures unlucky enough to find themselves in its path.
Other species that have caused considerable problems for our river wildlife include the American mink (Mustela vison) that was imported into Britain in 1929 for fur farming. Escapees bred in the wild and are blamed for the demise of our native water vole. The fish species topmouth gudgeon (Pseudorasbora parva) from south-east Asia carries a parasite lethal to our native fish. Floating pennywort (Hydrocotyle ranunculoides) from North America grows into dense blankets covering the surface of rivers and smothering everything beneath. Carried on imported plants from central Africa is the African redworm which can trigger severe digestive problems to humans if swallowed.
The giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) from south-west Asia imported in the 19th century as an ornamental plant hosts diseases which kill other plants.
The Surrey Heathland Project has launched an exhibition to highlight the history and importance of heathland in the county. The Wey Valley has some of the most notable areas of lowland heathland in the country and is the home of rare and highly specialised species of wildlife. Globally lowland heathland is extremely rare, and urban development, the expansion of forestry and neglect have resulted in loss of large areas of the habitat. Less than a fifth of the original heathland remains today.
Heaths until relatively recently were a vital part of everyday life for people in the valley, and it was from local heathland that they were able to find building materials, grazing for their animals, and fuel and food.
The exhibition, which opened (November 2006) at the Haslemere Educational Museum, examines the changes that have occurred to heathland in the valley and how the lives of those people who lived and worked on it changed along with it. The exhibition will tour the county until August 2007.
Local heathlands examined in detail included Witley Common, Frensham Common, Hankley Common, Thursley Common and The Devil's Punchbowl.
The Surrey Heathland Project was launched in 1989 to provide practical land management, advice, co-ordinate conservation activities with local communities and to re-introduce grazing to some of the sites.
Waverly Borough Council has put out an appeal (November 2006) for volunteers to help their hard-pressed countryside rangers in the invaluable conservation they carry out across the Wey Valley.
The winter months are spent intensively caring for the valley's wild places and anyone over the age of 16 with a keen interest in the great outdoors is welcomed. No experience or special skills are needed, just raw enthusiasm.
Conservation activities are regularly carried out at Frensham Common, Farnham Park, Mare Hill Common near Witley and Blackheath Common.
Bird Flu Drug
Following the scares over Asian flu last year (2006) the government is stockpiling supplies of the anti-viral agent Tamiflu in readiness to release to the population should an outbreak ever hit British shores.
Scientists are now publicly expressing concerns over the unknown effects of huge quantities of the anti-viral drug being flushed into the sewage system and on into the rivers. With millions of Britons taking the drug simultaneously tons of the Tamiflu agent in residue will be flushed into the water system.
Natural populations of microbes would be killed off by the chemical deluge and as a result birds, fish and other wildlife that is reliant on these bacteria and viruses for their survival could be devastated. Additionally scientists say that Tamiflu contaminants in the water would provide ideal conditions for the evolution of drug-resistant strains of the bird flu virus. These strains would then infect wildfowl and ultimately humans triggering another outbreak, but this time with a virus that would be resistant to the Tamiflu ant-viral agent.
The Tamiflu tablets currently (January 2007) stockpiled are estimated to represent 15.6 million doses with more on order. The aim would be for people to take the drug as soon as the first outbreak is reported.
The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology has developed computer models with which to try and predict the likely ecological effects of the drug. These have shown that large areas of polluted water would quickly be established within a few weeks of the first flu cases being reported.
It is however not all bad news. The Centre believe that chemicals could be developed to break down Tamiflu once it passed through a person's body, but before it is flushed away. These would be poured into toilets to deactivate the drug before it is flushed away.
Native Valley Wildlife
Many of the species that are currently under threat or have vanished from the Valley were victim to a brutal law introduced by Henry VIII and later Elizabeth I.
New research has revealed that new laws introduced in 1532 and 1566 to protect crop harvests at a time of food shortages due to a long period of famine decimated the populations of wildlife species, many of which never recovered. Prior to the research by a former director of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds environmental change and the over-zealousness of game-keepers had been blamed.
The laws introduced bounties which were put on the heads of many creatures at the time to encourage the population to rid the land of species that were then regarded as no more than vermin.
The Preservation of Grain Act first passed by Henry VIII made it compulsory for every man, woman and child to kill as many creatures as possible that appeared on an official list of 'vermin'. Today many of the same creatures are highly valued and protected by law. The king also put up bounties which ranged from one penny for the head of a kite or raven, to 12 pence for a badger or fox. At a time when the average agricultural wage was four pence a day these amounts provided serious inducement.
Millions of birds and mammals were slaughtered between the mid-16th and mid-18th centuries, with their fate carefully recorded in medieval archives as all parishes had responsibility for the bounties and had to impose fines on any communities that failed to kill enough animals.
Although the Act was intended to protect crops it also condemned many creatures that at the time were generally regarded as undersirable or unnecessary. Likewise many animals disliked for inaccurate or superstitious reasons were included.
A Living Landscape
The ever worsening threat of climate change has prompted wildlife trusts from across the region to unite in their efforts to have the issue addressed.
They have released (February 2007) the report A Living Landscape for the South East in which recommendations on tackling climate change and preserving ecosystems are outlined.
The River Wey Valley along with that of the River Mole are earmarked for particular attention. The report highlights the successes of protecting habitats through Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and nature reserves but highlights the need to restore and rebuild the environment in the wider countryside and encourage wildlife back into towns and cities.
Wildlife Trusts in the region have over 122,000 members and manage 245 nature reserves covering 38,000 acres. The Trusts are the largest UK voluntary organisation dedicated to wildlife conservation.
Source: Surrey Advertiser 23rd February 2007
A number of Wey Valley Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) are amongst the 30 Surrey sites threatened by loopholes in new legislation that was intended to provide additional protection from corporate pollution for important wildlife habitats.
Due for implementation by April 2007, the Environmental Liability Directive which was agreed in 2004 introduces a 'polluter pays' principle to make businesses legally and financially accountable for any environmental damage they cause. However GeneWatch UK, a not-for-profit organisation that monitors genetic technologies and their impact on the environment and animal welfare, has identified sites that are at threat from genetic and toxic pollution and may suffer from the loopholes.
The sites include the SSSIs at: Charterhouse to Eashing on the banks of the Wey near Godalming; the Devil's Punch Bowl near Hindhead; Wey Valley Meadows along a two and a half mile (4km) stretch of the Wey between Godalming and Guildford; and Puttenham (near Elstead) and Crooksbury (near Farnham) Commons.
The two loopholes are 'permit defence' which would free transgressors from liability if they had been granted a licence for activity which later become damaging, and 'state of the art defence' which excuses pollution damage if scientific knowledge at the time did not successfully predict possible harm.
GeneWatch is campaigning to have the Government strengthen the implementation of the EU directive, and has the support of local politicians.
Wey Valley excluded
In 2000 the Countryside Agency (1) (now Natural England) began the process of designating a 632 square mile (1,638 sq km) area along the South Downs as a National Park, and thereby bestowing across it legal protection and investment to ensure the preservation of its natural environment.
Popularly billed as 'London's National Park' as far back as 1947 when the idea was first mooted due to its proximity to the capital, it now appears that these ambitious intentions have been somewhat dashed as swathes of the originally targeted landscape have been unceremoniously ruled out for inclusion. The new boundary reduces the area of the park by a quarter to 489 square miles (1,267 sq km) and in the process eliminates those parts of the Wey Valley that were originally earmarked for inclusion.
The exclusions include Woolmer Forest and the beautiful valley around Binsted and Kingsley by Alice Holt Forest close to the River Wey (north branch) and Alton. Just as shocking is the exclusion of the countryside along the Wey (south branch) around Liphook and especially the exclusion of the source of the southern branch of the river at Black Down.
The new boundary demarcations were made in July 2007 but need to go through further processes before passing into law. Due to the high level of comments and representations made to the Secretary of State for the Environment he may be forced to reopen the South Downs public enquiry in late 2007. Various accusations have been made as to the reasons for the change including the government taking fright at the potential cost of maintaining a national park in a prosperous area.
The history of national parks goes back to 1947 when Sir Arthur Hobhouse proposed that 12 areas of England be protected by park status. The South Downs was one of the 12 but unlike the others was never bestowed with protection. In 1956 the area was again proposed for park status but was refused on the odd grounds that it didn't have adequate recreational prospects, particularly disproven by the fact that today the area attracts over 40 million recreational visitors a year. In 1962 it was classified as two separate Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) (2) but it wasn't until 1999 that the idea of park status was again resurrected.
Maps of the newly designated national park boundary can be found HERE.
(1) Natural England, formed by the 2006 merging of the Countryside Agency which had responsibility for the landscape, access and recreation and the Rural Development Agency with responsibility for environmental land management and English Nature, and has legal powers to enforce the upkeep and protection of the environment.
Wey Valley Air Quality
The 1995 Environment Act imposed a duty on local authorities to assess the level of particular air pollutants and take appropriate action should these pollutants exceed national standards set by the Government.
Waverley discovered in an ongoing programme of monitoring and assessment that levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) (1) was being exceeded in three locations. In response, Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) were declared in 2005 in each of the three areas suffering exposure to high levels of NO2.
In Godalming town centre along a 550 yard (500m) stretch of the busy main A3100 running from Ockford Road by the Anchor public house to the entrance of the South Street car park on Flambard Way was declared of AQMA status. Similarly AQMAs were imposed in Farnham on two stretches of the town centre road The Borough, between Downing Street and Castle Street and the approach to the traffic light junction at East Street and Castle Street. And perhaps not at all surprising the bottleneck and approaches along the A3 at Hindhead where over a mile (1.6km) of road centered on the main junction in the centre of the village were afforded AQMA status.
Air quality is monitored from automatic monitoring equipment installed in Farnham and Hindhead and at 35 locations across Waverley Borough including Godalming using diffusion tubes. Diffusion tubes measure NO2 and volatile organic compound (VOC) levels including methane, and are a comparatively low cost method of measuring air pollution. The tube, with an opening allowing air to pass over a chemically treated surface, is left exposed usually for a month attached to a fixed object such as a road sign, lamp post or building. These methods of monitoring revealed that levels of NO2 had exceeded over varying periods at each of the AQMA sites the maximum permissable standard of 40 micrograms per cubic metre. The AQMA NO2 data can be found HERE.
The Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has allocated (September 2007) a £21,000 grant for Waverley Borough Council to boost its work on monitoring air quality in the three AQMAs, and especially to upgrade monitoring at Godalming to automatic equipment providing real-time data comparable to Hindhead and Farnham.
(1) Nitrogen oxide is a reddish-brown gas that has a sharp biting odour and is one of the most prominent air pollutants. The gas, which is poisonous by inhalation, is generated particularly by vehicle engines.
Air quality tests carried out in 2006 along the Flambard Way and Ockford Road AQMA had shown that Godalming needed to see a 9% reduction in traffic emissions if it was to bring its air quality in line with government standards. Although Waverley Borough Council formally adopted (July 2008) its air quality action plan it seems that no action will be taken until at least 2011 to overcome the problem. The majority of air pollution in the town is created by vehicle exhaust emissions and so the local council says that the solution will have to be provided by the Surrey County Council's (SCC) highways department. SCC however has stated that it will not be able to implement any changes for at least three years.
The solution likely to be employed by SCC will involve a review of the town's traffic control system to reduce congestion in the AQMA involved. Waverley's action plan also includes trying to influence a reduction in the reliance on cars, for example reviewing its policy of providing short-term parking permits for parents doing the local school run amongst other initiatives.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has released maps (September 2007) illustrating how building development in Surrey has continued to seriously encroach on the county's unspoiled land. The maps support CPREs claim that Surrey is under more threat than that of any other county in England.
Land use consultants commissioned by the charity have shown that 85% of the county is now disturbed by noise and visual intrusion. They also show that Surrey is 26% more splintered than it was in the early 1960s. The county has lost almost 172 square miles (445 sq km) of undisturbed land in less than 50 years.
The CPRE define disturbed areas as those within sight and sound of nearby roads, urban areas and other major infrastructure.
Additional sources of air traffic come from the airfields at Fairoaks near Woking and Dunsfold Park.
Increased housing targets in Surrey according to the CPRE are also putting considerable pressure on the countryside. They believe that the latest official increase in new homes to be built in the county, up 10% from figures imposed only a year ago, is resulting in an unsustainable level of development.
A campaign to reduce noise on local roads has been launched (September 2007) by the East Guildford Residents' Association which represents 2,500 Guildford residents. The group is concerned about the increase in noise from roads generated by vehicles driving over potholes and poor surfaces, as well as through speeding, and will actively lobby relevant bodies including councils and the Highways Agency.
Local Protection for
The government has tried to reassure Guildford Borough Council and other concerned groups that the refusal of Westminster to keep intact a law used locally to enforce protection over agricultural land will not jeopardise the countryside of the area.
The Government Office of the South East (GOSE) representing central government in the region has stated that the farmland protection law being used is out of date and protection from national laws is more than adequate. The old law classified agricultural land into five grades, with one, two and 3a representing the most productive for arable use. Of the 10,043 hectares of agricultural land in the Guildford Borough only 1% falls into the top two grades, with 42% in grade three. The now obsolete law supported part of the council's local land use plans and protected the best agricultural land from development.
Concerns have mounted at a time that the area's greenbelt is under increasing pressure from government policy to introduce continually higher levels of new housing, especially following a recent report recommending that greenbelt be opened up for development.
Natural England, the government's countryside agency, announced (October 2007) that it was likely green belt land would have to be built on and has called for a review.
This has caused consternation amongst countryside campaigning groups.
The countryside ringing towns in the valley is under serious threat according to a report (May 2008) by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). Highlighted for particular concern is the area to the north east of Guildford which regional planners have earmarked for large-scale housing development.
The report has identified reviews of the green belt boundaries by local authorities focusing on Burpham, Merrow and Clandon. Parts of south Woking are also under review. CPRE also claims that developers are already buying up plots of land in the Guildford green belt as speculative 'hope sites' gambling on the relaxation of planning regulations in the area.
The government's South East Plan states that Guildford needs to increase its housing stock by more than 31% which equates to a build of 8,440 houses. The adjoining Waverley Borough's official target is 5,000 homes.
Wey Valley Breathing Places
The BBC Breathing Places campaign, which aims to encourage people to get closer to nature, has resulted in three environmental projects in the valley securing funding (June 2008) of almost £30,000.
In Guildford, the Park Barn and Westborough Open Space project has been awarded £9,971 by the National Lottery to help continue transforming a previously neglected fly-tipping area into a haven for wildlife and a recreational space for local residents. Launched in 2003 by local volunteers and assisted by the Surrey Wildlife Trust the project has cleared grassland and woodland in a site (GR: SU976508) above Park Barn Drive and Woodside Road. In 2008 the volunteers created a 500ft (150m) path and built and installed a bench providing a viewpoint at the top of the hill. £3,000 of the grant has been earmarked for putting a hedgerow around the green space they have created to provide additional habitats for wildlife.
Also in Guildford, the Worplesdon and District Bridleways Association has received £10,000 to restore a disused footpath on Normandy Common (GR: SU924517). The footpath, which runs between the Aldershot Road (A323) and Pirbright Road (A324) will be cleared and resurfaced with signage added. The restoration will also install bat and bird boxes and provide log piles for wildlife habitats.
A third project, the Snaky Lane Community Wildlife Group in Ash Vale in the north-western corner of Guildford Borough, has received a £9,125 grant to continue its restoration of a seven-acre site (GR: SU886542). The money will be spent on installing stock-proof fencing to allow highland cattle to graze on a disused part of the site for four months of the year, and providing training for local people on cattle husbandry.
Woodland wildlife is under increased threat according to the Surrey Wildlife Trust. The threat comes from invasive foreign species of mammals and plants which are overwhelming and destroying native species. Particularly affected are the county’s riverbanks including the Wey where the onset of Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) is endemic. The plant can grow up to nine feet (3m) in height and when it dies off during the winter lies across the riverbanks stifling other species.
Another villain is the Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica)which thrives in woodland areas and ousts the native bluebell and floating pennywort. The Trust’s research has revealed that one in six woodland sites in the county are under attack. Also highlighted was Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica), which was introduced to Europe as an ornamental plant in the 19th century. Mink, Australian stone crabs, and north American crayfish have been blamed for wiping out native species.
In 2008 Defra launched an initiative to reduce the threat of alien species by devising coordinated plans to provide for a rapid response when offending species are discovered. The trust has called for controls to be introduced to help control the invasion.
An ecological company based in the Surrey Research Park in Guildford provides help in eliminating invasive species. Thomson Habitats has been approached by landowners in Guildford and elsewhere in the county to restore wildlife habitats. Their operatives create protective covering for reptiles, replanting trees and hedgerows and removing invasive plants.
Three charities concerned with the environment have been granted funding (June 2009) to work on securing the habitats of threatened beetles and mice in West Surrey including parts of the Wey Valley. The Surrey Wildlife Trust (SWT), Surrey Heathland Project and the Surrey Biodiversity Partnership will use initial funds from a three-year grant period to purchase a turf stripping machine to create bare ground and actively monitor dormice to record their locations and sizes.
The ferocious and fast-moving predatory Tiger Beetle is of particular concern, and it will benefit from cleared areas and also the introduction of small shrubs. The beetle has huge jaws and long legs and being able to run at 5mph (7kmh) makes it the fastest running land animal in proportion to its size. Dormice are also a major concern having vanished from half their known locations across the county, with the main factor being the loss and degradation of woodland.
Ecologists from Thomson Ecology and Habitats, who are based in the Surrey Research Park at Guildford, are providing support through the funding of fifty dormouse boxes. Ecologists check the boxes once they are installed on a monthly basis to provide an accurate picture of dormice populations.
The first national report into the green belt - Green Belts: More Than Lines on a Map - has concluded (January 2010) that central and local government authorities must continue to strengthen the green belt and make sure they help people to appreciate the countryside. The authors from Natural England have emphasised that where the green belt land is underused or in a poor state that it should be improved not built on.
The Surrey spaces are highlighted as destinations for people from London to visit and Chobham Common is top of the list as one of the few public open spaces larger than 500 hectares (1,235 acres) in the London green belt. Overall in the Wey Valley the green belt scored well in terms of access with the exception of improvements that are needed in the Weybridge and Walton-on-Thames areas.
However the report revealed that 3% of Surrey Wildlife Trusts sites of special scientific interest (SSSI) or in an' unfavourable condition'.
In a separate report highlighted by the Surrey Advertiser (January 2010), a government minister admitted that the South East Plan (SEP) stipulation to build on green belt land around Guildford may be flawed. The response came about following Parliamentary Questions in which Guildford MP Anne Milton raised the concern of the government-set requirements to build 8,000 homes in Guildford by 2026.
During the debate MP Milton said: "following Guildford Borough Councils judicial review of the South East Plan, what plans does the minister have to remove the designation to build on the green belt in Guildford, in the light of the Prime Minister's response to protect the green belt? He has let the country down and he has let Guildford down."
The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Shahid Malik, said: "I reject the latter point completely. The fact is that there are an extra 34,000 hectares of green belt land in this country because of this government. I accept that the application of the sustainability appraisal process in relation to Guildford was flawed, and negotiations are going on between the government and the litigants, so it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the matter any further."
MP Milton said after the debate: "It is great news for the people of Guildford that, in a rare moment of contrition, the government has admitted that mistakes have been made when looking at the sustainability of building on the green belt in Guildford. We must now keep up the pressure on the government to scrap these top-down plans. Local housing decisions should be made locally, not decided by unelected and undemocratic quangos."
American crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus) were introduced in the late 1960s as an alternative crop for farmers. The crustaceans have since proved to be highly destructive and a direct threat to a variety of native species of aquatic creatures.
A former ranger for the Surrey Wildlife Trust has made it a long-term project to monitor the invaders. Jim Storrar has spent 20 years observing how the American crayfish, also known as signal crayfish, negatively affects the river habitat and effectively destroy the smaller, less resilient native crayfish.
Storrar has evidence that the American crayfish, which can grow to be as big as a hand, can walk on land for up to a mile.
The ecologist supplies the American crayfish he catches to a restaurant in Shere where they are served up in a chilled crayfish bisque with cucumber spaghetti and Bloody Mary ice cubes. The chef at the William Bray has welcomed the initiative.
© Wey River 2005 - 2012