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Wildlife Trust Praises Donors, Pledges Pewley Down Fields as Nature Treasure Chest

Published on: 22 May, 2021
Updated on: 21 May, 2021

Surrey Wildlife Trust has praised the “extraordinary community bid”, spearheaded by residents and assembled in just three weeks, which saved 37.5 acres of rare chalk grassland on the North Downs in Guildford (see Dreams Of Developers Destroyed As Campaigners Buy Pewley Down Fields).

Pewley Down Fields forcefield. Photo John Redpath. Click on the images to enlarge in a new window.

The national importance of the area is such that Jonathan Mitchell, a local conservationist and campaigner who helped to buy the site, is to be interviewed tomorrow (May 22) on Radio 4’s Today programme.

He said: “When the message popped into a local residents’ WhatsApp group saying it was up for sale, immediately we all felt the Fields could be safeguarded only if we bought them ourselves.

“We were just amazed by the response from local networks of people and further afield who all came together to pledge money. We can hardly believe we achieved the winning bid in just weeks.”

Skylark on Pewley Down. Photo Amy Lewis.

Pewley Down Fields are rich with nesting skylarks, chalkhill blue butterflies, bumblebees, wild thyme, orchids and other wildlife. With the help of the Trust, a nature reserve will now be created to preserve the land in perpetuity for generations.

The Fields, with a selling price of £800,000, were bought at auction on May 13 for “substantially more than a million” through an avalanche of pledges from hundreds of residents. The Wildlife Trust also contributed.

The area is at the centre of the Trust’s North Downs nature recovery network and among the largest of 50 priority mini-landscapes for nature restoration in Surrey.

Pewley Down Fields, “a rare chalk grassland”. Photo Jonathan Mitchell.

Protecting land along strategic wildlife corridors is key to the Trust’s national strategy to protect and connect at least 30 per cent of land for nature recovery by 2030.

Conservationist Julia Stephenson, the main donor behind the purchase, said: “Having grown up on these rare chalk downland fields, I know how precious they are to the community, and we felt they could be safeguarded only if we bought them.

“The sweeping views and rare wildlife form an integral part of this stunning landscape. During the lockdown, people appreciated more than ever how intrinsic nature is to our health and wellbeing.

“So we are absolutely delighted the fields will be protected for future generations.”

Ms Stephenson’s generosity followed in family footsteps; her mother bought neighbouring chalk downland, now Rosamund Meadows, to save for nature in 1985.

The Fields are within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and Site of Nature Conservation Importance (SNCI).

Pewley Down Fields can become “one of the richest habitats for wildlife in Britain, supporting species which are found nowhere else”. Photo Surrey Wildlife Trust.

The Fields will be leased for 500 years to Surrey Wildlife Trust. New perimeter paths will make the reserve accessible and children can experience the diversity and beauty of wild creatures, wildflowers, and other plants on the reserve.

The ground-nesting skylarks are renowned for their beautiful and captivating song as they ascend in a vertical display flight. This streaky brown bird has inspired poets and composers, such as Ralph Vaughan Williams, with his famous piece The Lark Ascending.

But skylarks have declined dramatically in the UK and are “red-listed” as a priority species for conservation concern.

Sarah Jane Chimbwandira, chief executive of Surrey Wildlife Trust, said: “We have already lost 97 per cent of traditionally managed wildflower-rich meadows and pastures across the UK in the past 80 years.

“This disappearance has led to the drastic decline of many species, including a rich array of colourful wildflowers, familiar farmland birds and vast numbers of pollinating bumblebees, butterflies, and other insects.

“Once restored, chalk downland can become one of the richest habitats for wildlife in Britain, supporting species which are found nowhere else.

“Their natural dryness and low fertility supports a high diversity of fine-bladed grasses and low-growing flowers such as quaking-grass, yellow oat and upright brome, the wild ancestors of herbs like basil, thyme and marjoram, several scabiouses, a variety of vetches and trefoils, as well as a distinctive suite of native orchid species.

“This rich flora in turn supports a wide variety of invertebrates, which includes at least 30 species of butterfly, over 500 species of moth and more than 80 species of bees.

“Butterflies include important populations of small and chalkhill blues, green and brown hairstreaks, and dingy and grizzled skippers.

“Extremely rare moths, such as the campanula pug, forester and fuscous flat-body, have been recorded hereabouts and on warm summer nights the lights of glow worms can be seen.”

Now Pewley Down Fields, alongside Pewley Down Nature Reserve and Rosamund Meadows, will form part of a huge swath of 80 acres of rare grassland protected for nature where wildlife will flourish.

With the expert advice and management of Surrey Wildlife Trust, this amazing assemblage of wild flora and fauna will be protected for many generations.

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