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Spring 2021 Newsletter

Photograph courtesy of Alex Anderson

Letter from the Chairman - Bob Daniels

You may have noticed that whilst introducing myself as the new Chairman in the last Newsletter I did not include my name - apologies!! In light of the current C19 pandemic it is very difficult to predict when it will be possible to return to normality but I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible once it is permitted to do so. In the meantime, you can always contact me by email bobdaniels69@gmail.com, or telephone 07557 275348.

Many of you will have experienced for yourselves the impact of the intense pressure on all National Trust sites. There are muddy paths and car parking issues on even the smallest sites. Restrictions on the opening of catering facilities have helped reduce the length of time people spend at Hindhead and the police have been issuing fines for lockdown offences on some local sites. These issues are clearly a temporary phenomenon and whilst dismayed at the short-term negative impacts I am also delighted that the NT sites we cherish are providing blessed relief for those who are otherwise confined to their homes. You may have seen Lead Ranger Dave Elliott’s article in the Haslemere Herald recently regarding Mountain Biking at both local and other Surrey Hills sites. Here is a short extract: ‘’We know how important it is for people to get out in nature for exercise and wellbeing but…. we are concerned about the ramps and downhill trails appearing on heaths and woodlands. We want to do the right thing for everyone who uses and cares for these places during lockdown and for the wildlife that depends on them. New structures require licensed permission from Natural England and so in many cases we are obliged to remove them. We are appealing to local cycling groups and shops and advising people to stick to approved trails. The best way to check where you can cycle is with an Ordnance Survey map where the green dashed lines show a bridleway. Please think of others: think of the wildlife. The only way these precious wild places will survive is if we pull together to preserve them.’’

In the same context please remember that at this time of the year our sites are crucial for rare ground nesting birds such as Nightjars. Please keep your dog on the lead!

Our original target donation towards the cost of the local Rewilding Project was £50,000. To date we have raised an impressive £62,000. Our thanks to all who have contributed to this magnificent effort.

We are delighted to announce that the fence has been completed and the beavers are now in residence. There is one male and one female which were caught separately - we are hoping that their natural instincts will blossom in due course. You can see some of the local and national press coverage of the beavers' release here:
The Guardian: Pair of eager beavers released in South Downs to help boost valley wildlife | Wildlife | The Guardian

ITV Meridian: Pair of beavers released into the wild in the South Downs | Meridian | ITV News

The Rewilding Project Team, led by Dave Elliott and on which I sit, are doing everything possible to discourage anyone from disturbing the beavers to give them a chance to settle into their new home. These wild animals have just been subjected to the stress of relocation and we ask you to restrain any urge to visit them. The location of the site has also, as far as possible, been removed from all communications and we would appreciate your help in keeping it low profile, especially in light of the intense visitor pressure mentioned above.

The committee have decided to pencil in dates for various events in the hope that they will be able to go ahead. Should it prove impossible to hold live events we will, wherever practical, provide online or other alternatives. We hope that you will enjoy participating despite the limitations this may impose. To ensure the continuation of key local NT projects your continuing support is crucial - and much appreciated.

Hindhead Lead Ranger’s report – Matt Cusack

Work on the easy Access Trail (along the old A3) began in October, but with one of the wettest Octobers recorded the ground became too boggy and slippery and a decision was made to halt the project. It is now hoped to restart in April/May when the ground has dried out; the trail will come back to the extended car park.

Increase to Car Parking Spaces: tree felling has been completed, and car parking spaces will be increased from 189 to 220. A semi-permeable surface will cover the parking area. Some notices were put up to explain the work, and contractors have been reassuring the public that only trees that are on the footprint are being felled. Work should be completed by mid-summer.

Off-Road Cycling: Over the whole country there has been a massive increase in mountain biking during the pandemic. As reported above ‘we want to do the right thing for everyone who uses and cares for these places….’ Signs have been put up asking bikers to stick to byways etc., volunteers are regularly checking on these and talking with mountain-bikers on the ground. Discussions have been held with the National Trust's Lead on Mountain Biking regarding a way forward and we are working with the Surrey County Councillor, Nikki Barton, and the Surrey Hills AONB to find a workable solution.

Black Down Lead Ranger’s Report – Dave Elliott

Following the reorganisation within the National Trust, the South Downs West Team now looks after the region from Black Down and Marley through Woolbeding to Harting Down – a fascinating mix of places. The team staff include Matt Bramich and Spike Brooker for South Downs (Black Down and Marley), and Sarah Fisk and Chris Smout on the Woolbeding side. There are more livestock in the new areas and several of the Sussex cattle are calving.

As mentioned elsewhere in the newsletter there has been a massive increase in recent visitor numbers; this has led to problems with litter, mountain-biking and car parking. Notices have been placed on social media and on site requesting the public to respect the properties.

Ash Dieback has become a major concern, and requires extensive tree felling; contractors have been brought in to back up the in-house team. Sadly this disease will spread and similar work will have to be done over the next few winters.

GPS trackers - Collars have been fitted to lead cows in each group on Black Down, which reduces time spent searching for the cows.

Clearance of scrub beside paths has continued, especially on the west side of the property. Annual spraying of rhododendrons has just started on Black Down. The main wild fire risk season will coincide with the lifting of lockdown restrictions so staff are working really hard to plan for this. We ask everyone to follow the guidance and not light fires or throw away cigarette ends.

Research Projects associated with the Local Rewilding Project

The introduction of beavers as ecological engineers in residence in a local valley has attracted the interest of a number of research teams, who are keen to study their impact. Guy Woodward, Professor of Ecology at Imperial College, London, has initiated a number of projects. Pre-beaver baseline water samples were taken at 200m intervals within the enclosure and control valley and up to 3 kms downstream.

By studying the environmental DNA present in these samples it is possible to detect what species of organisms are currently present. Further samples will show how this changes with time. These data will form the basis of a PhD which will be part funded by the Supporters. MSc and undergraduate projects are also planned.

In addition, the site will be used by a student from the University of Birmingham as part of a 6 year PhD programme, the detail of which is still under discussion.

Professor Guy Woodward will be the guest speaker at our AGM on Thursday 17th June (Museum and/or Zoom).

Photo Competition 2020

The results of the 2020 Photo Competition have already been reported in the Haslemere Herald. Dr Clinton Blackman from Haslemere's Camera Club led the team of judges and we were again grateful to Raymond Reid Photography for donating the prizes.

There were a number of outstanding images; the three winning photos are shown here and the judges comments for two are below.

First Prize: Redcoat at the Devil's Punch Bowl by Sophie Harrow

This is a stunning example of “less being more” – the misty conditions have created a monochrome background upon which a single colour has been added to unify and strengthen the composition. The strong geometric forms are nicely balanced and the path leads the viewer straight into the centre of the composition where the redcoated figure takes a key position, not only within the terrain but also as the focus of the coloured leaves pointing in from each corner of the frame.

Second Prize: Swan Barn Farm by Jane Puttock

Third Prize: Fox at the Devil's Punch Bowl by Rosie-Mae Freeman

Children's Prize

This image was shortlisted purely on the grounds of its photographic merit; as the work of a young child it is outstanding. The animal is seen in its natural environment with no distracting elements, the entire creature can be seen and it is sharply focussed where it should be, on the head and eye. The Sand Lizard is rare, so this photo will be included in the formal biological record of the occurrence of this species at Black Down.

Children’s Prize: Lizard at Black Down by Bertie Lawson Johnston age 9

Photo Competition 2021

We hope you enjoy the beautiful winning entries from our 2020 photo competition. We are running a similar competition in 2021, with prizes for the top three entries, so please continue to take photos throughout the year ready to enter by the 30th November closing date. Check the summer newsletter for more details or email: photocomp@haslemere-nt.com You can download a copy of the 2021 rules from here.

Tennyson’s Stone, Black Down

‘You came, and look’d, and loved the view long known and loved by me: green Sussex fading into blue, and one gray glimpse of sea’. Green Sussex by Lord Tennyson

Many of us will have enjoyed this view over the last year, maybe even sitting on the stone, whilst considering the words created by Tennyson. The carving together with 6 others are all made of sandstone and created by Graeme Mitcheson. The Heathlands United team have linked seven heaths in the South Downs National park. The trail winds through Stedham, Graffham, Black Down and Woolbeding. The team have been researching oral history and local archives , all telling the story of the importance of heathland as common land enjoyed by local people throughout the centuries and as a rich haven for biodiversity, including rare insects and all 12 of Britain’s native reptiles and amphibians.

Dates for your diary
We are hopeful but these events are all dependant on Covid restrictions etc.!

Sunday 26th September Punch Bowl Challenge at the Devil's Punch Bowl, Hindhead

Wednesday 29th September Educate & Inspire Talk: Beavering Away by Professor Guy Woodward of Imperial College London

Saturday 16th October 7.30pm Supporters Quiz cancelled

Saturday 23 Oct Fungal Foray on Black Down led by Dr Andy Swan of Haslemere Natural History Society

Thank you for your continued support. Please encourage your friends to join the local Black Down and Hindhead Supporters group. Membership forms are on this website.


Photographs throughout the website by: David Elliott, Matt Cusack, Matt Bramwich, Alex Anderson, Alan Waggott and courtesy of the NT