Surrey Countryside Champions – Just Bring Yourself
While the countryside should be experienced, it must be enjoyed responsibly to minimise the impact on local wildlife and habitats. Just Bring Yourself founders, Kirsten Johnson and Francesca Simpson, and the team of guides Don Ross, Anton Johnson, and Eric Flint, are passionate about protecting the beautiful Surrey countryside and believe that educating people about nature is the best way to do this.
Their fun, informative hikes encourage an appreciation of the natural world while gently educating their customers on how to keep the human impact on nature to a minimum. We spoke to Kirsten and Francesca to find out more about the work they do and how Just Bring Yourself got started.
1. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Can you summarise who you are and what you do?
We deliver fun, fact-filled hikes of North Downs woodland near Dorking. We aim to give adults and young children an insight into nature, enabling them to read what’s going on in the woodland whilst gaining a deeper appreciation of an environment so important to us all. What we see every time we go out is how relaxed people are at the end of a hike, providing repeated proof of the well-established connection between nature and wellbeing.
2. How did Just Bring Yourself come about?
During the height of the pandemic, when many thousands of visitors arrived daily to the Surrey Hills for fresh air and green space, we quickly realised the need for space didn’t equate with the respect it was shown. So many abused it by leaving behind most of what they had brought. Hence the company name. After many months of litter picking, we felt we wanted to do something more than apply a sticking plaster to the problem.
3. Your team is passionate about environmental care. How is this incorporated into your guided woodland tours and events?
We encourage customers to come by public transport; we supply food that is not wrapped in plastic; we include local businesses. We also keep to established footpaths, nothing is moved or removed from the woodland and a light touch of education about the environment is delivered through wonderful factual and emotional examples of why things are there.
4. Educating people about the natural world is so important. How do you balance encouraging visitors to get involved while minimising the human impact on nature during your tours?
First and foremost, we take our guests away from the honey pot sites such as Box Hill. The grassland can get quite literally threadbare and paths badly over-widened. Our groups are quite small and there are lots of discussions with landowners about seasonally sensitive areas. We recognise how important it is to encourage a deep love of nature. An immersive experience such as we provide enables the visitor to get physically close to trees, fungi, insects, and wildflowers, to hear birdsong, and smell the fresh scent of pine needles after rain.
If people don’t have experience of the natural world, they won’t fight tooth and nail for it. However, we do mention the man-made dangers facing this environment. We encourage visitors to come by train or bus, we ask that dogs do not come on the specific routes to avoid disturbing wildlife, and we promote aspects of the Countryside Code in children’s tours and on our social media. We explain how detrimental rubbish left behind can be, such as a plastic bottle which mice or insects can get stuck inside of. A child’s innate reaction is often to ask whether they can help clear up the rubbish they see. Children also get so much out of trips to the farm. We think adults also benefit from this by understanding what farming entails in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
We feel it’s important not to lecture anyone but instead to help them feel a sense of wellbeing and awe when in the woodland. We believe this naturally leads to more environmentally friendly lifestyle choices.
5. The Surrey Hills is such a beautiful area, what can local residents do to ensure it stays that way?
Local residents are quite protective about the Surrey Hills, however, one of the worst pollutants is unfortunately noise. The area is very much seen as an outdoor playground and a free for all – motorbikes, rally cars, and mountain bikers as well as hikers arriving by car. The Summer months can see detrimental noise levels for nature, especially birds. If we really are to protect this area, we should encourage a better public transport system with shuttles to and from the train stations to various points and perhaps provide an element of education about the care of nature on those shuttles.
6. How can people and local residents support Just Bring Yourself?
Even if you know the woods well, come on a hike and find out more about its natural history! If you have never thought of going into the woods at night, join us for a Moon Walk near Mickleham.
We would love to hear from people of all ages and backgrounds who are passionate about ensuring the future of the natural world on their doorstep and want to share that passion. Maybe you’d like to be a volunteer guide on the JBY team? We also ask people to get in touch with us if they have relevant marketing or social media experience.
And please follow us on Instagram!
7. Your team does amazing work. What’s your favourite area of the Surrey Hills to explore?
For now, the areas we share are around Mickleham, Norbury Park, Denbies Hillside, and Ranmore. As we tell our return guests, the route may be the same but we can guarantee you a different backdrop every time you come out!