West Horsley Place is delighted to announce the beginning of a partnership with Surrey Wildlife Trust. Our vision of creating a sustainable estate for the 21st century with natural heritage and environmental responsibility at its heart means that we have to interrogate the current conditions, protect habitats and wildlife, and seek to improve our landscape. The estate will become part of a county-wide nature recovery network. Mike Waite is Living Landscapes Manager at SWT and also happens to live in the village, he caught up with us about ideas for the future: 

Q- As a Horsley resident did you know anything about West Horsley Place before our involvement with SWT began? 

MW- Not so much the house, but the grounds and estate yes, absolutely. Thanks to the (public) Access Scheme and as a life-long local naturalist, I have been exploring the estate as my ‘back-yard’ for all the time we’ve been living in West Horsley. The Estate is literally my first port-of-call by foot as I leave the front door, which is why it was very easy for me to compile my list of breeding birds from previous records and also add some extra wildflower species to the Surrey Wildlife Trust’s botanical surveys of last year.

Q-How did the relationship between WHP and SWT start? 

MW- Surrey Wildlife Trust’s planning services team originally provided advice to Guildford Borough Council when the various planning applications were in process; which then led to your team commissioning the SWT's ecological consultancy to compile and update the habitat and species information from across the estate. As mentioned already, I was able to contribute to this and have since provided further ‘visioning’ advice for how you might approach managing the estate into the future.

Q- Could you give a brief summary description of the 380 acres that comprises our estate? 

MW- There is a really interesting mosaic of land-uses actually. Fronting the house is the remaining section of traditional ‘parkland’ with its groups of veteran trees amongst rough pasture, probably never tilled. Around this, former parkland has long been farmed as pasture and more recently for growing silage – winter food for livestock. The largest block of woodland is Lollesworth Wood – which is partly ‘ancient’ and has a diverse range of wildflowers, some of them quite rare. It also hosts a scheduled ancient monument - the three medieval fish-ponds. Various smaller, linear woodlands radiate away from Lollesworth, some of which are really outgrown hedgerows that line the drainage ditches flowing northward from a natural spring-line at the foot of the North Downs, which runs roughly in line with the Epsom Road. Frenchlands Copse on the eastern boundary is another ancient woodland, that has a fine show of bluebells in the spring. Lastly, the gardens around the house include an old orchard. Such traditional orchards are regularly cut-down and are a declining land-use nationally, so West Horsley Place’s is all the more important for that.

Q- What role can estates such as ours play in creating a sustainable future for the Surrey's natural heritage? 

MW- If we get it right, the new direction for the estate as proposed could lead to full realisation (and proper recognition) of the potential environmental ‘ecosystem services’ that are provided there. Alongside the traditional provision of agricultural products, this will increasingly be replaced by carbon capture by growing woodland, timber as biofuel and a renewable source of energy, natural flood management through the damming of ditches as wetland creation projects; as well as all the new habitat to enable Surrey’s wildlife to continue to thrive in the face of a changing climate.

Q- SWT-managed Sheepleas nature reserve was part of the WHP estate as recently as the 1920s. Reconnecting these two important green spaces, in terms of ecological management values, feels important for our local community and has a sense of coming full circle. . . 

MW- Yes, exactly and nicely put. Sheepleas was originally gifted to Surrey County Council and is managed on its behalf by Surrey Wildlife Trust since 2002. Something else that is nice about the Sheepleas is that it was one of the very first suite of nature reserves to be created in this country. Early in the last century Sir Charles Rothschild, founder of the Wildlife Trusts (our parent body) recommended a list of 284 nationwide sites to form the core of the protected wildlife site system, and Sheepleas was on it –described by him as “..the finest piece of entomological and botanical ground within thirty miles of London”.

Q- One of the first things SWT has done at WHP was to carry out a scoping survey. Can you tell us what this is and any exciting or unexpected findings? 

MW- Yes, this compiled all of the existing, and added further detailed habitat and species information for the estate. Using this, a number of management approaches could then be suggested to enhance the biodiversity value of the estate within an overall and coherent plan. 

 Q-The survey findings have enabled us to start considering how we can protect and increase biodiversity on the estate, could you touch on some of the ideas we are considering to do this?

MW- Some of the open pasture and silage fields could be planted to create native broadleaved woodland, but in a strategic way so as to provide new and reinforce existing linkages for woodland connectivity across the estate. Some of the fields can be restored to their former parkland state; grazed by livestock and planted sparsely with the next generation of ‘in-field’ veteran trees for the future. Further fields can be targeted for restoration to become species-rich meadows – even chalk grassland perhaps to the south of the Epsom Road adjacent to Sheepleas. Nectar-rich meadows are now so important for supporting essential populations of pollinating bees, hoverflies and other invertebrates. It has even been suggested that a ‘do-nothing’ approach might be adopted over a certain proportion of the estate, as the Horsleys’ first ‘Re-wilding’ experiment to compare the merits of naturally regenerated woodland versus planted.

Q-We are enjoying exploring with SWT various exciting ideas for future public activities and events on the estate, such as surveys, guided walks and a bioblitz. Can you tell us a little more?  

MW- We suggested hosting a Bioblitz to concentrate the forces of Surrey’s expert wildlife recording community, whereby maximum effort can be applied to discover the full extent of the estate’s biodiversity. This can then be combined with the offer of guided walks and talks to the public, as an valuable opportunity for interpretation of natural history by experts. I am hoping to lead an early morning bird-watching walk to celebrate National Dawn Chorus Day in early May. Watch this space!

Q-We are delighted to be one of your landowner partners for your Hedgerow Heroes Project. Tell us a little about it and the role WHP will play.  

MW-The Trust has recently been awarded Heritage Lottery funding for its ‘Hedgerow Heroes’ project. This will focus within the North Downs but also involve urban Guildford, Leatherhead and Dorking on the fringes, to promote restoration and replacement of former lost hedgerows within the landscape. It will teach surveying and monitoring methods, traditional hedge-laying skills and techniques, and empower individuals and communities to look after their local hedgerows. The project will further benefit dependent wildlife such as the rapidly declining Hedgehog. Several hedgerows have been identified on the Estate for restoration and re-planting, so we will be directing local volunteers to put this into action just as soon as we recruit the new Project Manager.


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