BBC Countryfile explores Surrey’s precious heathlands

This week BBC Countryfile TV presenters Matt Baker and Margherita Taylor joined Surrey Wildlife Trust in celebrating Surrey’s rare and precious heathlands.  A full schedule of virtual guided walks, talks and heathland inspired activities took place on the Trust’s social media channels between 27th July and 2nd August to celebrate Heath Week 2020, culminating with the BBC Countryfile heathland special featuring Wisley and Ockham Common on Sunday 2nd August at 7pm on BBC One.

Filming took place over a week ago at Wisley, with Margherita Taylor making an early start with Ralph Connolly, from the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC), to discover the UK’s rarest reptile, the elusive sand lizard. She also had a sneak preview of the newly refurbished Semaphore Tower at Chatley Heath. Matt Baker experienced the excitement of a night shoot with Ben Habgood, conservation manager at Surrey Wildlife Trust, glimpsing the nocturnal nightjar and listening to its beguiling churring.

Charlotte Magowan, marketing and communications manager at Surrey Wildlife Trust, said: ‘We are so incredibly lucky in Surrey to have rare fragments of lowland heath, which is teeming with wildlife at this time of year.  We couldn’t run our usual Heath Week this year, so we have gone all out to show people the wildlife treasures of this globally rare habitat online: the ravishing pink and purple heather, carnivorous sundew, rare reptiles and the amazing ground nesting birds.

‘We were absolutely buzzing to be able to share our conservation work and the weird and wonderful heathland wildlife with Countryfile.  We are so blessed as the nightjar migrates an incredible 6,000 miles annually from sub-Saharan Africa to reach its breeding grounds right here on our Surrey heaths. Both online and TV audiences are in for such a treat, and we hope they will be inspired to visit Chobham, Whitmoor, Wisley and Ockham Commons, Brentmoor or any other Surrey heaths after their sneak preview!’

Jo Saunders, conservation grazing manager at Surrey Wildlife Trust, was lucky to spend the afternoon with Matt Baker at Wisley Common and the herd of Belted Galloway cattle. Jo explained the important heathland conservation work carried out by the herd and how the Trust locate the cows using GPS technology, whilst Matt did a health check on the cattle and learned about the insect ecosystem of a cow pat.

The heathlands in July and August are a truly sensory experience, with the lovely sweet smell of heather and pine warmed by the sun. The Trust  has teamed up with Natural England’s Thames Basin Heaths Partnership (TBHP) to provide a virtual Heath Week schedule which will include guided tours of many of Surrey’s heathlands and its flora and fauna, as the blue skies bring out the vibrancy of the pink and purple heather and beautiful sundews.  Heathlands are abundant with insects at this time, so there will be also be spider and dragonfly guides as well as spotlights on species such as nightjars and adders. Nick Izard of TBHP will welcome you to heathland birdsong with ID guides, sound clips and bird sightings.

Features also include a guide to responsible dog-walking on heathlands, and information on wildfires, and what we can all do to prevent them, as well as some hands on family craft activities. There will be a fabulous photo competition, with prizes kindly donated by our friends at TBHP and Surrey Wildlife Trust have also included a special Heath Week wildlife ID guide on its smartphone app, which can be downloaded at surreywildlifetrust.org/app to help people make the most of their reserve visits.

The annual Heath Week event is designed to encourage local people to explore and appreciate the county’s vast wilderness of heathland, which spans areas between Farnham and Godalming in the south of the county to Woking and Camberley, Chobham and Cobham in the north.  One of the most ancient and characteristic British landscapes, it has special conservation protection internationally, is home to an incredible diversity of wildlife and provides a living link to our stone age past.

For further information about Virtual Heath Week 2020 visit surreywildlifetrust.org, and social media@surreywt #heathweek

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