Origins of the Surrey Heathland Project
Heathland is internationally important. It is a living link with our Bronze Age past and many rare plants and animals depend upon it. Its heathery landscape can surprise and thrill us – wild country around large urban developments such as Guildford. Indeed, Surrey has a significant part of the national heathland resource but its heathland is very threatened.
In 1988, Surrey County Council and the Nature Conservancy Council published "A Strategy for Surrey Heathland". This document stated that Surrey had lost over 85% of its heathland since the late 18th century. Heathland which for thousands of years had been a dominant part of the landscape of west Surrey was on its way to disappearing. In 1989, the Heathland Project was set up to help stop the decline. Since then the Project has been working to promote the conservation of heathland in the county in a variety of ways, particularly through the reintroduction of grazing.
10 years after the publication of the Strategy and without the benefit of a recent survey it is only possible to speculate on the current status of heathland in Surrey. On some sites, there have been continuing losses to succession but, overall, these losses have been much reduced by increased heathland management over the past decade. In some places, there have even been gains in the heathland area, mostly as a result of clearance of woodland to allow restoration of heathland. A conservative view is that we have maintained the area of heathland of 10 years ago (about 3,000 hectares) but it is possible that the situation is a little brighter. An aerial survey of the county in 1999 should give the opportunity to revise our figures.