RYE MEADOWS, ASHTEAD
In 1988 an area of approximately 48 acres of land adjacent to Ashtead Woods Road was acquired by my husband and myself from the estate of the late Lord Barnby, who had expressed the strong desire that the land be retained in single ownership to preserve the character of an area of land which, with the exception of some peripheral building, has remained little changed for many centuries. The land is bisected by the Rye Brook, which is designated a "main river" and is a tributary of the River Mole.
Over the last 24 years some of the land, mainly in the upper area, has been used for low intensity grazing for horses. The income from this has contributed to the cost of the general maintenance of the whole area and, inter alia, the clearing of natural and man-made debris from the environs of the Rye, tree felling and clearance where necessary for safety reasons, and the cutting and preservation of hedges. In addition significant work has been undertaken over the years in keeping clear the two footpaths which traverse the land from Preston Grove and Fairholme Crescent, giving direct access to Ashtead Common. This work has also included the building and restoration of stiles.
During this period, I have taken responsibility for managing the land and have made it available to and worked with individuals and institutions interested in the environment. These include a Hedgerow Survey for the Lower Mole Countryside Management Project carried out by local historian and keen supporter of the preservation of the environment, Jack Willis, in which he noted that almost all the surface water from Ashtead village flows into the Rye. The land from Barnett Wood Lane gently slopes to within 100 metres of the watercourse. This area immediately south of the Rye was originally known as The Great Marsh and an Ashtead Court Roll of 1483 makes mention of its clearance, drainage and conversion into pasture land. The system of ditches from Barnett Wood Lane in the south and from Ashtead Common to the north continues to this day and is crucial for the proper drainage of the area. The land from the north of the Rye to the boundary with the houses on the southern border has been designated by the Environment Agency as Flood Plain and so any blocking or filling in of ditches exacerbates the risk of flooding. The oldest hedges are thought to date back to at least 1638.
Contact has been maintained with the Lower Mole Countryside Management Project and one of the boundary hedges was made available to enable a hedge laying exercise to be carried out by a group of volunteers. Subsequently a hedge bordering on Ashtead Common was made available to the Corporation of London for the same purpose.
Advice has been taken and followed from the People's Trust for Endangered Species on the best practice in the management of hedgerows and access has been granted for the study of species who inhabit that environment.
Most recently, Peter Firth, a local ornithologist, who has observed birdlife on Ashtead Common for twenty years and produces a monthly diary on his findings, has commenced a survey of the 48 acre site. In December 2011, he noted that 38 species had been observed. However, a smaller number of migratory birds than might have been expected have been observed.
In the past help was provided by a number of agencies. More recently this has been replaced by an increasing level of regulation and, due to ever tighter budgets, a diminishing level of support.
The lower area from the northern side of the Rye southwards, much of which is Flood Plain, forms part of a natural corridor along the Rye westwards from Ashtead Common. It has huge potential to provide a mosaic of habitats for many types of wild life and it is this area of approximately 14 acres which is the subject of a proposed long term environmental restoration and development project.
Having managed the land for almost a quarter of a century, I would like to enhance for the long term benefit of the environment and the village of Ashtead this wildlife corridor. Over the past couple of years I have been developing my vision with the assistance of:-
The Community Foundation for Surrey
The Environment Agency
Surrey Wildlife Trust
The Woodland Trust
The Barnby Trust
The Thomas Flack Fund
Helen Cocker and Conor Morrow of the Lower Mole Countryside Management Project
Mole Valley District Council
Chris Townsend, Surrey County Councillor
David Baker, Nigel Bond and Allan Mornement – Chairman & Committee Members
Stephanie Weinmann, Landscape architect
Plus many more regular and enthusiastic volunteers.
The plan includes the following:-
• reshaping the river channel
• recreating meanders
• developing ponds and scrapes
• generally creating new habitats for important species
• planting hedging and trees indigenous to the area to enhance nesting sites for birds
• light grazing of horses to encourage wild flower meadows
• ongoing maintenance
• encouraging other groups and specialist societies to visit and record their findings
In order to protect this corridor and ensure the benefits of the project are maintained, and because the land will remain in private ownership, apart from the rights of way, only limited access will be possible. This will be granted to the specialist societies and interest groups mentioned above, to schools and universities for study projects, and to volunteers who will play an integral part in the carrying out of the plan. As a result, although the land borders Ashtead Common, this 14 acre site will be unique to the area.