Croydon beauty spots could be included in expanded Surrey Hills protection area

Happy Valley Pic: Lee Urquhart

Plans to potentially extend the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to include some of Croydon’s most beautiful green spaces are being backed by one of the borough’s MPs

AONBs represent some of England’s most outstanding landscapes whose special qualities are deemed deserving of safeguarding in the national interest.

Croydon South MP Chris Philp said: “The Surrey Hills AONB could help preserve the natural environment and heritage while providing an opportunity to support people’s health and wellbeing through access to nature… This is a fantastic opportunity for our area”.

Chris Philip Pic: Chris McAndrew

Natural England, the government’s advisor on the natural environment, is running a public consultation to expand the boundaries of four Areas of Natural Beauty, including Surrey Hills.

The Surrey Hills AONB boundary has not been reviewed since it was originally designated in 1958; it currently covers a 422km² stretch of North Downs and Greensand Ridge landscapes.

The consultation is considering areas of high scenic quality, including chalk and grassland, parkland and historic features.

Chairman of the Surrey Hills Society, Gordon Jackson, told ELL: “We welcome this review, which has been promised for many years. The Surrey Hills are a National Landscape of huge importance and enable those living in the adjacent urban environment to explore the countryside and enhance their health and wellbeing.

“The outcomes of this review will impact the Surrey Hills for many decades and will influence the degree of protection or development across the entire area. Once land is defined as outside a ‘protected’ designation, it is far more vulnerable and once it has gone, it has gone forever.”

Potential Croydon area candidates to be added to Surrey Hills AONB include Farthing Downs, Happy Valley, Coulsdon Common and Riddlesdown. These areas sit on the border of the southern-most parts of Croydon, extending into Surrey.

Map of Surrey Hills AONB showing potential additions Map: Natural England

When it was purchased under the Green Belt Scheme in 1937, Happy Valley was described as “one of the most beautiful valleys in the whole neighbourhood”. It was acquired to link the two neighbouring areas of Farthing Downs and Coulsdon Common.

Farthing Downs and Happy Valley make up the most extensive area of semi-natural downland habitats remaining in Greater London. The area is home to species-rich chalk and grasslands, and Devilsden Wood – an area of ancient woodland.

Farthing Downs Pic: Lee Urquhart

Coulsdon Common is a varied site containing ancient woodland, grasslands and freshwater ponds. The landscape is rich in wildlife including a variety of birds, bats and butterflies.

Riddlesdown, in Kenley, is a hillside of meadows and woodland. It is rich with drifts of wild flowers – many of which are rare. Neolithic axes and possible traces of Iron Age fields prove the area had a history of human activity going back thousands of years.

The first stage of public consultation will be running until January 31, after which further evaluation will take place and the identification of candidate areas will be released in June.

Philp encourages as many residents as possible to get involved in the consultation: “These proposals have the potential to deliver over 1600 additional square km of protected land.

“I hope that you take part in the consultation. Please do also forward this to friends and family in our area who may be interested.”

Read more about the consultation and how to take part here or fill in the online consultation form here.

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