A National Landscape for All

14th December 2022

The Surrey Hills Symposium 2022 identified that the Surrey Hills is a landscape for all. During the event, the audience engaged in a variety of polls which indicated we should be encouraging more people to enjoy the area, especially from communities traditionally unfamiliar with it. The Symposium highlighted how we can all learn how to respect the countryside and care for nature.

On Wednesday 23 November, the Symposium began with a marketplace made up of community groups, partners, and Surrey Hills Enterprises members welcoming guests to the University of Surrey. A thriving marketplace with a common goal; to help make the countryside more accessible to all, ensuring it is protected for people and nature. Guests enjoyed refreshments from Surrey Hills Enterprises member Mandira’s Kitchen. Surrey County Council offered sixty free trees for guests to take away and plant in a space near their home. The aim is to plant 1.2 million trees in Surrey, one for every resident, by 2030.

The marketplace was followed by a showcase and debate asking how we can all protect, respect, and enjoy our National Landscape. The event was opened by Professor Max Lu President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Surrey, who celebrated the University’s launch of the Innovation Exploratorium earlier in the day. These spaces provide visitors the opportunity to explore their research showing the impacts nature has on us, and we can have on nature. This is tightly connected to the launch earlier in the year of Surrey Hills Arts’ HABITAT project which is hosted on campus. The HABITAT project tackles the climate and biodiversity crisis head on by working with local communities to develop and sustain ecological green spaces in urban areas.

Heather Kerswell, Independent Chair of the Surrey Hills Board, showcased some of the collaborative projects undertaken throughout the year helping connect different people with nature. Heather quoted Julian Glover in a review commissioned by the government who said that areas of outstanding natural beauty such as the Surrey Hills were just as important and effective as National Parks; he proposed that they should be renamed National Landscapes and given new purpose in reaching out to everyone in their catchment, not just the people who traditionally use them. Acknowledging this, Defra has awarded the Surrey Hills with an access fund to help provide better access and a higher quality experience to those who have barriers to the landscape.

“Glover challenges us as National Landscapes to reach out to our whole population in everything we do. It is positive to see so much activity undertaken by our Surrey Hills family and partners, but we know that more needs to be done for everyone to be able to Thrive with Nature. How can we open the door wider?”

Heather Kerswell, Independent Chair of the Surrey Hills National Landscape

A new video was showcased featuring a variety of people enjoying and volunteering in the Surrey Hills. As well as enjoyment and conservation, music and arts are key to reaching new audiences. The Surrey Hills Arts ‘Harvest’ event connected hundreds of people to the National Trust’s Box Hill viewpoint, gathered round Diana Burch’s art installation ‘Seeds of Hope’, which we brought to the Symposium to form a backdrop to the speakers.

In-person and online guests then heard from four fantastic speakers about their focus and vision towards making the countryside a place for all, who then answered your questions on their subject matter.

Judy Ling Wong – Hon President, Black Environment Network

“We love what we enjoy, and we protect what we love. Access to nature lays down the basis for the contribution by everyone to the care and protection of nature.”

Haroon Mota – Founder, Active Inclusion Network

Seeing minorities out in the countryside shouldn’t be strange or a reason to be labelled. Often the biggest barrier is that we haven’t had the outdoors embedded within us from a young age. You can’t be what you can’t see. Community is integral to success and by bringing everybody together, we can find a sense of confidence and belonging in these natural spaces.”

Stephanie Fudge – General Manager, National Trust Surrey Hills

“I believe that the countryside is for everyone- it already is. The National Trust sites in the Surrey Hills welcome a huge diversity of people who come by many means of transport. Our job is to welcome everyone and to share understanding of what they are visiting so they want to help protect it for the future. We have already seen that if visitors are asked to help and know why, they willingly step forward and change their behaviour.”

Ashley Greening – Intern, Surrey Wildlife Trust

“We belong to nature; we don’t own it. We can create a countryside for all by caring for nature but taking out the man-made obstacles that limit some people from enjoying and protecting it.”

This stimulating debate was artistically captured by Veronica Wood, creating a vision of what the future may look like in terms of our access and protection of nature.

Finally, the event concluded with closing remarks from Gordon Jackson, Chair of the Surrey Hills Society. There was a premiere of the new ‘Making Space for Nature’ film, a collaboration between the National Trust and Surrey Hills. This film celebrates the 150-year birthday of the composer of the Lark Ascending, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and the fantastic mosaic of habitat that the Surrey Hills landscape offers.

As guests departed the event, they were asked to write down comments on their thoughts towards how we can improve access to nature whilst protecting the landscape. These responses will help support decision making of future project work made possible by Defra’s access fund towards capital improvements towards access to the countryside.

With thanks to the University of Surrey for hosting our event, and all our partners, community groups and Surrey Hills Enterprises members for exhibiting.

You can watch the recording of the event below.