SWT Phase 2

Thursley, Elstead, Ockley, Royal & Bagmoor Commons:

The next stage of consulting on their future - A background paper

Previous Consultation:

Between June and August 2010 Surrey Wildlife Trust in partnership with Natural England and Ministry of
Defence/Defence Estates carried out an extensive consultation on the future management of the Commons. A full
appraisal report, a background paper and a leaflet with details of the consultation events were made available on the
Trust’s website and distributed via e-mail, post and hand to a list of stakeholders including local, regional and national
organisations as well as local groups and householders residing near or adjacent to the Commons. Householders and
people who came to the events also received a questionnaire. Posters were put up on site, in car parks, on notice
boards and in local shops, and a press release was sent to the local media to ensure wide publicity of the consultation
and events. There were 2 grazing open days and 4 open days held on the Commons and 4 ‘drop-in days’ held in local
village halls which were visited by a total of 172 people and 106 questionnaires were completed and returned.
This enabled all the organisations to understand the uses and gain local people’s views on the various options of
managing the Commons.

A detailed report on the results of the consultation can be found on the Trust’s website  [LINK] 

The main findings from the responses and questionnaires are as follows:
People mainly use the Commons for walking, frequently with a dog, followed by nature study, horse riding and jogging
with similar numbers coming on foot and by car. For most visitors the Commons had several qualities which attracted
them but the main points were peace and quiet, scenery, wildlife and ease of foot access as well as an appreciation of
open views and wildness. Nearly half of the concerns expressed on the questionnaires were related to the activities of
dogs with other concerns about the condition of paths and bridleways and disturbance to wildlife. About 75% were
content with the current management for visitors and 70% were content with the management for wildlife. A majority
thought that information provision and wardening were about right. There were also clear majorities in favour of the
provision of dog bins at all the main car parks.

Regarding management techniques; 92% were in favour of summer grazing with just over 50% supporting burning
and mowing but with fewer favouring turf-stripping. As for the type of livestock; most people favoured cattle or a
combination of livestock rather than only ponies or sheep. There was a high level of uncertainty on the various options
for controlling livestock which is perhaps why there were mixed and sometimes conflicting views, although, of those
who expressed a preference, most preferred small fenced compartments above large temporary enclosures,
shepherding and perimeter fencing. However, the MoD/DE has raised concerns about dividing the site with internal
fences as they would pose difficulties and make it impossible to maintain operational flexibility for training needs. The
MoD/DE accepts the desirability of grazing for heathland management and wishes it to be implemented on all areas of
the Commons including those parts they use for military training. The MoD/DE accepts that a perimeter fence would
be the most suitable and practical option as a means of containing livestock but cannot endorse any other fencing
options on land which MOD owns or uses for training purposes.

Our Proposals:

In light of the findings of the initial consultation and subject to further consultation, we propose the following actions:

• Set up a process of consultation with local people over future path maintenance.
• Continue to manage the Commons by a range of management techniques which includes scrub control,
mowing, controlled burning, grazing and turf-stripping.
• Prepare a programme to clear trees and scrub encroaching upon the open heathland and manage areas of
woodland and veteran trees in line with those areas currently under a Higher Level Stewardship scheme.
• Liaise with local people on the value of bare ground and how small-scale turf-stripping can be used to achieve
this aim prior to the preparation of a plan for bare ground creation across all the Commons.
• Survey the condition of the heather and prepare plans for controlled rotational burning and cutting.
• Assess the extent of bracken and prepare plans for its control – where possible by cutting and bruising in
preference to spraying.
• Continue rotational gorse management.
• Extend existing grazing primarily by cattle in spring, summer and autumn, starting at about one animal per 15-
20 hectares (equivalent to a total of 35-50 cattle for 8 months) and look into the option of using ponies to
graze all year round, to be varied in the light of experience.
• Install permanent perimeter fencing with all access points maintained (see outline map below: larger scale
maps can be viewed by contacting Surrey Wildlife Trust).
• Set up a strategy to monitor the effects of all the management techniques.
• Conduct a visitor survey in 5 years time.
• Regular communication with users of the Commons, local people and organisations to ensure that current
issues and concerns are known so management actions can be taken accordingly.

For more information please visit the Surrey Wildlife Trust website: www.surreywildlifetrust.org 
Enquiries to Zoe Grainger at: Surrey Wildlife Trust, School Lane, Pirbright, Woking, Surrey GU24 0JN or e-mail Zoe.Grainger@surreywt.org.uk