Surrey Hills Arts launches ‘HABITAT’

29th July 2022

On Wednesday 27 July, Surrey Hills Arts celebrated their launch of ‘HABITAT’ at the University of Surrey. ‘HABITAT’ is an Arts Council funded project working collaboratively with the University of Surrey and Surrey Wildlife Trust, exploring how artists can positively contribute to increasing biodiversity in urban spaces.

As an experimental pilot project, a built-up space at the University of Surrey was selected. Working with the University’s Horticultural and Landscape Manager and Archives and Special Collections Manager, the Surrey Wildlife Trust and four artists, the project set out to transform the area with planting and sculptures created specially to attract and support local wildlife. The artists worked collectively as well as independently researching local declining species and experimenting with designs and maquettes towards their final artworks.

This project has been a wonderful collaboration across campus teams, with local organisations and artists, and a range of community groups. The launch event was attended by representatives from arts, environment, community and civic organisations and the lively discussions revealed the potential of this project, and the creative way it addressed environmental issues, as a springboard for further initiatives across the area.

Helen Roberts, Archives and Special Collections Manager, University of Surrey


HABITAT team with the Mayor of Guildford during the project launch evening at the University of Surrey. Image by Paul Stead

Supporting species at the base of the food chain was the focus for artist Livia Spinolo. By increasing the population of slugs and snails this will attract birds such as the Song Thrush and Bull Finch. Her artwork ‘Vertical Undergrowth’ is a tower of repurposed concrete slabs planted with natural elements such as soil, moss, and native plants. Situated in a shady location, this feature will attract invertebrates whilst providing ledges for the birds.

Nearby to ‘Vertical Undergrowth’, lies a sculpture housing discarded branches. Over 50% of insects that rely on deadwood are threatened in Surrey.  Creatures such as beetles, bees, butterflies, wasps, wood boring insects and in turn, their predators, are at risk. ‘Benjes Ark’ by Russell Jakubowski is able to be regularly restocked as the wood breaks down and in creating two ‘arks’ of different scales and locations, we are able to monitor the species attracted to different conditions. The Arks provide a hiding place and a micro-climate. Their densely packed enclosures also act as a refuge for reptiles such as toads, lizards and hedgehogs.

Artist Amy Haigh has created a ‘Reconfigured Cycle Rack’ that was no longer needed by the University. She cut this into 600 pieces and reassembled it to create a dome structure with a log pile at its centre. Amy’s research for the piece focused on slow worms and stag beetles as protected species present in the area. She found that decaying logs are fundamental for stag beetles as a food source and by planting them deep in the ground, the beetle larvae are able to migrate between the soil and wood. The shade helps to create damper conditions and therefore softer soil, required by stag beetles and other invertebrate species, some of which slow worms feed on. Amy embedded the lowest ring of pipes in the soil, forming tunnels in every direction creating safe terrain for slow worms.

‘HexB’ by Will Nash utilises his fascination with natural geometry and sequences to develop new sculptural ideas for solitary bee architecture using 3D printing, silicone moulding, and cast Jesmonite. Will invented a prototype system of nest holes that can be easily disassembled for the annual harvesting of the bee cocoons then cleaned for reuse. As a legacy to this project, Will plans to work with solitary bee enthusiasts to trial the HexB system alongside their other bee nests.

Amy Haigh with her artwork Reconfigured Cycle Rack
Image by Paul Stead
Will Nash with his artwork HexB
Image by Paul Stead

The artworks will be monitored over the seasons to assess which species are benefitting and to help us to plan further eco spaces across the county. The artists also came up with some simple sculptural habitat ideas that everyone can make from a willow nest ball to a bird feeder. They ran workshops with local community groups including Halow, The Hive and Kings College secondary school. In all, 400 people learned about their local species and created artworks to support them.  An additional benefit of this reconfigured space and the sculptural habitats within it, is that it provides a much-improved area for students of the University to take a break, be more mindful of wildlife and, hopefully, positively impact their wellbeing.

Artists want to make a difference to our biodiversity crisis, and this project has given them time to create pieces that help support the many species sadly in decline in the county. This much needed experimental project provides a positive starting point towards greener Surrey communities.

Ali Clarke, Programme Manager, Surrey Hills Arts


Surrey Hills Arts are working with Surrey Hills Society to fundraise for Part 2 of the project. You can support their Your Fund Surrey application by agreeing and commenting on the proposal here.

You can read more about the Habitat project at