Surrey Wildlife Trust's first 50 years - the habitats, issues, animals and people

PUBLISHED: 14:55 24 November 2011 | UPDATED: 16:13 20 February 2013

Silver studded blue butterfly (Surrey Wildlife Trust James Adler).

Silver studded blue butterfly (Surrey Wildlife Trust James Adler).

With Surrey Wildlife Trust celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, here we bring you 50 fascinating facts you may not know about the charity and the wildlife it protects

A celebratory year

  • A special 50th anniversary birthday bash will take place at renowned Surrey beauty spot Newlands Corner on Saturday September 12 2009. Running from 10am to 5pm, take along a picnic and enjoy the wonderful views.

  • Norbury Blue at Norbury Park Farm, Mickleham, has produced a special cheese to celebrate the anniversary.

  • And you can wash it down with a pint of SWT's Hare Raiser ale, especially bottled for this year by the Hogs Back Brewery.

  • Weighed down with cheese and beer? Get one of the trust's Bags for Wildlife and stop plastic bags polluting Surrey. Visit the SWT website to order.

  • The first ever Hard as Snails 10k run takes place on Saturday August 22 2009. The course takes in St Martha's Hill, the Albury Downs and Newlands Corner. Enter at

Surrey's wildlife

  • New to Britain, brittlestem toadstools were discovered at Vann Lake nature reserve, near Ockley, in 1986.

  • To aid the recovery of otters, which almost disappeared in England in the 60s and 70s, SWT designed artificial homes, made of recycled plastic.

  • Isobel Girvan, an ecologist at SWT, found a rare pointed snail, which is normally found on the coast, on the rare chalk downland habitat of Pewley Downs, in 1998.

  • In 2003, the Dartford warbler made a welcome return to Wisley and Ockham commons after being absent for 40 years, thanks to SWT's habitat restoration work; there are now five breeding pairs.

  • 50 silver-studded blue butterflies were relocated by SWT in 2004 from Chobham Common, Fairmile Common and Brentmoor Heath into carefully managed areas on Ockham Common.

  • In 2005, the Trust installed a tern raft - mimicking a shingle covered island - on Sheepwalk Lake near Sunbury, which successfully enabled scarce terns to nest and breed there.

  • Following the discovery of an extremely rare Bechstein's bat in a box in Wallis Wood near Ockley, in 2007, nine Natterer's bats were found inhabiting one box at Fir Tree Copse, near Dunsfold, in November.

  • A small black bee, a species that had never before been found in Britain, was discovered at SWT managed Spynes Mere Nature Reserve in the summer of 2008.

  • The Trust's careful management has led to improved habitat conditions for many of Surrey's important birds of prey, including peregrines, hobbies, buzzards, red kites, owls and ospreys.

  • SWT has put up a total of 1,100 dormice boxes across Surrey to help reduce the risk of their extinction. Despite this, the dormouse is still under threat.

  • Water voles continue to decline from their few remaining sites in the county. Efforts go on to save them, but they have suffered from predation by the introduced American mink.

  • SWT and the Zoological Society of London are working to protect 'Britain's rarest animal' - the red-barbed ant - from extinction. Colonies have been released on Chobham Common.

  • There is a three-year rescue plan project in place for the rare Heath tiger beetle through habitat protection.

Habitats and management

  • In 2009, all of the Trust's woodlands, over 32 hectares in size, were awarded Forest Stewardship Council certification for the sensitive way in which they are managed.

  • These sites are Bowles Rough, Brockham Limeworks, Chobham Common, Fowls Copse and Fernfell Fields, Norbury Park, Nower Wood, Rodborough Common, Shabden Park Farm, Sheepleas, Shere Woodlands, Staffhurst Wood, Wisley and Ockham Commons and Worplesdon Group of Commons.

  • SWT's first nature reserve, Seale Chalk Pit, between Guildford and Farnham, leased from Surrey County Council in 1960, is a haven for chalk grassland species.

  • Surrey Greenspace Project is a new five-year project that aims to encourage a wider audience to engage with their local wildlife and green spaces.

  • SWT has restored a disused sandpit into the Moors and Spynes Mere Nature Reserve, containing three linked lagoons, a beach area and sandy cliff face.

  • SWT manages over 9,000 hectares of Surrey's countryside and is the largest of the Wildlife Trusts in England, in terms of land managed.

  • SWT owns or manages 81 nature reserves, of which 80 per cent have some level of protective designation, ranging in status from European (Special Protection Area / Special Area of Conservation) to national (Site of Special Scientific Interest, National Nature Reserve) to local (Special Nature Conservation Importance, Local Nature Reserve).

  • They look after 80 per cent of the European protected heathland in Surrey. Heathland is one of the most threatened habitats in the world - 85-90 per cent has been lost since 1800.

  • 162 SWT cows graze across eight sites in Surrey. The re-introduction of conservation grazing to Wisley Common in 2005 saw the reappearance of the first recorded orchids on site for over 20 years.

  • SITA funding has helped SWT restore chalk grassland at West Hangar, which is situated to the north of Shere.

Major battles faced

  • Flytipping still takes up a great deal of the charity's time and costs money to dispose of the rubbish.

  • A lot of SWT's time is spent fighting invasive species, including mink, American crayfish, Himalayan balsam and Japanese knotweed.

  • People in 4x4 vehicles straying from the green lanes, destroying banks and anything else in their path.

  • Loss of habitats because of roads, development, agriculture and land ownership in the country.

  • Climate change affecting species - more species spotted that were previously confined to areas further south and those that once migrated staying all year.

  • As a charity, the credit crunch is a massive challenge with SWT relying largely on people's donations.

  • Wildlife crime continues to be an issue with people stealing birds' eggs, shooting birds of prey and illegal trapping.

  • Hot dry weather and arson at sites damages natural habitats and is especially prevalent with heathland.

Partners and people

  • In 2002, SWT entered into a long term agreement with Surrey County Council to manage its 6,500 acre Open Space Estate.

  • SWT has had an agreement with the Ministry of Defence to graze its land at Ash and on The Folly near Pirbright since 2006.

  • In 2007, the Trust was awarded the management of Glory Wood, Deepdene Terrace, The Nower, Ashtead Park and Inholms Claypit by Mole Valley District Council.

  • SWT was started by the efforts of volunteers 50 years ago and now has an army of at least 800 volunteers.

  • The Trust has 27,000 members, which equates to 2.5 per cent of Surrey's total population.

  • There are a few well known faces involved, too, including vice president Sir David Attenborough and president Dr David Bellamy.

  • SWT refers queries about injured animals to Leatherhead charity Wildlife Aid and sometimes runs events at the British Wildlife Centre.

Lesser-known tales

  • The visitor centre at Newlands Corner was refurbished and opened in May 2007 - the site is also known for Agatha Christie's disappearance.

  • The nearby Silent Pool, where SWT wants to get rid of the invasive Australian swamp stonecrop, is a place full of folklore - the tale of the woodcutter's daughter and King John I remains a source of intrigue.

  • Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes solved a murder at the SWT managed Crooksbury Hill, near Farnham, in The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist.

  • SWT's headquarters is at Pirbright. They also have a countryside team in East Horsley and a sawmill in Norbury Park operating under the name Norbury Park Wood Products.

  • SWT's first education centre, Nower Wood, opened its doors in 1971. It led the way for wildlife education, being the first of its kind in Surrey.

  • Education services also now operate from Bay Pond, Godstone, Haslemere Museum and Littlefield Common, near Guildford. Over 7,500 students visit annually.

  • Office space is tight with the growth of SWT. If anyone wants to donate a larger building, get in touch!

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>> Help Surrey Wildlife Trust to look after our wildlife for the next 50 years. For membership, call 01483 795445, e-mail or visit:

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine August 2009

With Surrey Life magazine columnist's Surrey Wildlife Trust celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, here we bring you 50 fascinating facts you may not know about the charity and the wildlife it protects

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