Since the Project was established in 1989, it has been tackling Surrey’s heathland problems on many fronts:
Practical work is all important as it is this which will conserve our heathland for future generations. Together with other heathland managers the Heathland Project has worked on hundreds of hectares, clearing scrub and bracken before they take over the heathland and establishing the sort of ongoing management which will keep the heathland in good condition for years to come. A big part of this is reintroduction of grazing animals.
For centuries domestic livestock have helped maintain the heaths, until recent decades when they ceased to have a place in the lives of Surrey people. The Project has been working with local people so that fencing can be put up to allow cattle and ponies to graze again and has its own animals to start the process off.
On some sites where there once was heathland, the Project has restored it using machinery to strip the ground and allow heathland to regenerate. In many places, enthusiastic local people join in the practical work as volunteers; in others the services of professional contractors have been used. Some of the work is innovative – the Project has a role in developing new techniques for heathland managers.
The Project provides advice on heathland management to others who look after heathland – landowners, agents, countryside rangers, wardens and golf course managers. It organises seminars and other events to keep interested organisations and individuals informed. It has also hosted the National Heathland Conference.
If our heathland is to survive, it is essential that people who live in Surrey know more about the heathland which is still around them. Many may be unaware it even exists as so much is invisible from roads, behind dense screens of trees. Illustrated talks, and guided walks showing not only the natural history of heathland but its cultural history – how people have used it over the centuries – are organised by the Project but town centre and school events which set out to bring heathland to people are taking a higher profile.
Despite the involvement of many enthusiastic and committed people, conserving our heathland through management needs resources. Some of these are available through grant schemes. Since 1992, the Countryside Stewardship Scheme has aided heathland work. The Surrey Heathland Project has assisted owners with applications, sometimes preparing management plans. In 1994, it became agent for English Nature in the delivery of their Wildlife Enhancement Scheme for heathland. Much useful work has been achieved but the task is large if we are to conserve heathland into the next millennium.
An application by the Heathland Project for assistance from the Heritage Lottery Fund under English Nature’s "Tomorrow’s Heathland Heritage" programme is underway. The project, ‘Surrey’s Last Wilderness’, if successful, will provide a substantial boost to heathland management and restoration in the county.