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Surrey Countryside Champions – Celebrating the Surrey Hills Board

Andy Smith
By Andy Smith
8th February 2022

This is the first of a new monthly feature – Surrey Countryside Champions – where we put the spotlight on a person, group or organisation that is working to promote, enhance or protect the Surrey countryside.

The deadline for the Surrey Hills AONB Boundary Review passed at the end of January. It is hoped that the review by Natural England will conclude to extend the boundary that is currently categorised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). So many people dedicated time and effort to calling for this review to take place and it’s their efforts that will ensure the future of the Surrey Hills for generations to come.

The Surrey Hills sprawl across a quarter of the Surrey landscape and are one of 46 nationally protected areas in the UK. If you are lucky enough to live within the boundary or have visited, then it is easy to see why people are determined to protect this stunning stretch of countryside. An extensive footpath network interweaves through open commons, attractive market towns, and iconic sites, all with the backdrop of awe-inspiring views.

An AONB is a landscape with distinct character and natural beauty that is considered so precious it is in the national interest to safeguard it. In 1958 the Surrey Hills was one of the first areas to be given AONB status. The Surrey Hills Board, CPRE Surrey, and many others felt a review was long overdue, with the intention to extend the boundary to bring in some surrounding areas, including some designated Areas of Great Landscape Value (AGLV), which are currently protected at local level.

The Surrey Hills Board

The Surrey Hills Board is in place to conserve the natural beauty of the landscape. Recognising that the landscape may change over time but ensuring it changes in a way that protects what makes it special and maintains the social and economic viability of the area in a sustainable way. Heather Kerswell, Independent Chair of the Surrey Hills AONB Board, spoke with Natural England and was instrumental in getting the boundary review to take place. This follows on from extensive work by Michael Sydney, the first Chair of the Surrey Hills Board, who for many years fought and campaigned to protect the area. Michael was also a Trustee of CPRE Surrey.

Surrey Hills Board

CPRE Surrey’s involvement

CPRE Surrey’s Chair of the Board Trustees, Kristina Kenworthy, wrote to Natural England to express our desire for this review to take place and our commitment to protect the Surrey Hills AONB. It was this organisation (known as the Council for the Preservation of Rural England at the time) that was key in the early designation under the 1949 Act. Due to its proximity to London, Surrey is often under threat of development, but protecting and extending the designated area will ensure the Surrey Hills are preserved for future generations and is in line with the Government’s ambitions to ensure recreational outdoor spaces are accessible for everyone. Tim Harrold has now stepped down as Chair of CPRE Surrey but recognised the importance of organisations working together towards our shared goals for the local area. During his time as Chair, Tim also joined The Surrey Hills Board and forged many partnerships for CPRE Surrey.

Protecting the Surrey countryside for the future

The Surrey Hills AONB Review is the first since the Glover Review (which carried out a comprehensive review of protected landscapes and put forward proposals to the Government). The Government has now responded to the Glover Review and committed to protecting 30% of UK land for nature by 2030. Their vision for protected landscapes is: “A coherent national network of beautiful, nature-rich spaces that all parts of society can easily access and enjoy. Protected landscapes will support thriving local communities and economies, improve our public health and wellbeing, drive forward nature recovery, and build our resilience to climate change.” Read the full Government response to the review here.

If the likely extension of the boundary of the Surrey Hills AONB goes ahead, this will be a step towards this vision and a huge win for those who have campaigned so hard to protect our surrounding areas. The value of these amazing outdoor spaces has never been felt as greatly as during lockdowns over the last couple of years. But the fight is not a new one, with many local people working tirelessly over the years to ensure these areas are protected and remain there for people and wildlife to enjoy. Kristina Kenworthy says “The Boundary Extension had been promised for many years but is finally a reality thanks to the efforts of Heather Kerswell, on behalf of the Surrey Hills AONB Board, and the members of CPRE Surrey. We are delighted the Review is afoot and that the Government has now finally responded to the Glover Review by promising to increase the amount of protected landscape to 30% of England by 2030. We have every hope we will see the extent of protected landscape to be significantly increased. We value our long running association with the Surrey Hills board and will always do what we can to support their important work.”

With the deadline for the Surrey Hills AONB Boundary Review having passed, it’s a great opportunity to take a moment to celebrate everyone who has fought for the protection of the Surrey Hills over the years. We’ll provide an update the minute the results are announced.

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Surrey Countryside Champions - Surrey Hills Board