Continuing collaboration in Surrey to conserve and provide better access to nature

30th March 2023

Over the past few months, members from the Surrey Coalition of Disabled People have been undertaking accessibility audits across the Surrey Hills to help create a more accessible countryside for all. People with disabilities are 10x less likely to access the countryside than the general population, therefore the projects developed from these audits look to ensure everyone has the opportunity to enjoy and protect our national landscape.

The Surrey Coalition of Disabled People team comments:

“We have been delighted to work with the Surrey Hills team to ensure that the countryside is accessible for all. In particular, we want to highlight how the Surrey Hills team involved us from the outset of the project. It’s so important that accessibility is thought through from the beginning of any project. Thanks to the team for working with us, we’re looking forward to many walks, wheels or sitting in the Surrey countryside.”

The Surrey Coalition recently returned to one of their original access audit sites, Newlands Corner, to experience the improvements made and provide further feedback for future projects. In collaboration with the Surrey Coalition, Surrey Hills team, Albury Estate and Surrey County Council, the easier access trail now provides an improved experience with resurfacing works and the addition of benches.

Deputy Cabinet Member for Environment, Paul Deach comments:

“It’s great to welcome the addition of the new easy access trail at our iconic Newlands Corner site and is something we want to see more of across Surrey’s countryside. We cannot underestimate the value of being outdoors and the great mental and physical benefits it brings, and it is important that our green spaces offer facilities that make them accessible to everyone.  The advice and guidance offered by the Surrey Coalition of Disabled People for this new trail has been invaluable and shows what can be done when we work collaboratively”.

Surrey Coalition of Disabled People, Surrey Hills and Surrey County Council teams at the Newlands Corner view Surrey Coalition of Disabled People, Surrey Hills and Surrey County Council teams testing out the Newlands Corner path and benches

There are further projects planned at this site including the addition of a boardwalk made from Albury Estate timber to protect the ancient yew trees, which have suffered from soil compaction. This is enabling visitors to understand the significance of these internationally important trees and feel empowered to protect them. The Surrey Choices Growth Team, who provide outdoor work experience to supported adults, have been hard at work at Newlands Corner conserving and enhancing the enjoyment of the area. Activities have included helping construct the new boardwalk, creating dead hedging to protect the yew trees, and a huge array of conservation works at the viewpoint, much of which facilitated by Surrey Hills Society and funded by the Surrey Hills Access Fund. The team recently were joined by the Adult and Health Select Committee and Mayor of Guildford to see the fantastic habitat restoration and conservation work they have done, which won the Environmental Award at the BBC Make a Difference Awards.

Mette le Jakobsen, Surrey Choices Managing Director said “The partnership between the Growth Team at Surrey Choices and the Surrey Hills Society is exceptional. We had the delight of seeing some of the work the team have done, restoring grassland, and conserving the woodland. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to admire the ancient yew trees, it was quite inspirational and actually a little bit emotional.”

Surrey Choices team standing at Newlands Corner Surrey CHoices team working on the boardwalk at Newlands Corner

These projects come in response to our landscapes being protected for nature and for more people to enjoy and protect it. DEFRA has provided all National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty with an Access for All Fund, of which the Surrey Hills received one of the highest amounts of funding. The Surrey Coalition have helped inform a multitude of access improvement projects across the Surrey Hills, alongside the feedback gathered by over 300 guests at the Surrey Hills Symposium in 2022.

Kathy Atkinson, Chair of the Surrey Hills Board comments:

“In order to protect the Surrey Hills for the future, and so that everyone can benefit from this amazing landscape, it’s essential for us to be able to work with expert groups such as Surrey Coalition, who can bring their understanding of access issues and work with us to address these. People will only fight to protect and nurture the countryside if they really value it, so supporting access for people to spend time in the Surrey Hills helps to build our army of countryside protectors. And then there is the power of volunteering, as our work with Surrey Choices demonstrates. Doing something practical and useful in an amazing setting . . . it’s good for the volunteers and it helps the natural environment too. We are so grateful for all the work done by our Surrey Choices friends who have been out in good weather and bad!”