Dunsfold Countryside

 

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Introduction

Dunsfold is long and narrow, strung along grassed and wooded common land. Served only by local roads and some two or three miles from neighbouring villages through traffic is comparatively light and the village enjoys a tranquillity difficult to find in crowded South-East England. When traffic hum and aircraft noise is absent there can be long periods of natural silence. There is minor light pollution, confined to the north behind the Downs.

Climate is typical of South-East/South England and annual rainfall averages around 800mm. The underlying strata is Wealden clay - which accounts for the several ponds in the village - and below that chalk. Close to the North Downs the land is relatively flat, with deep fissures cut into the clay by the much branched headwaters of the River Arun (in the autumn/winter large sea-trout run upstream beyond Dunsfold). The surrounding landscape is of farmland, horse and pony paddocks, woodland and parkland. Much of the area of Dunsfold and the immediate surrounding countryside enjoys designated Sites of Nature Conservation Interest (SNCI) and Areas of Great Landscape Value (AGLV) while further out there are several Sites of Special Scientific Interest. (SSSI) status.

The Weald

Primroses The Weald, that area of South-East England bounded by the North and South Downs and to the the east the downland west of Petersfield and Farnham is home to a rich and varied fauna and flora - a legacy of the ancient woodland which covered it from the time of last glaciation. Although the early peoples of southern England - the Neolithics, Bronze Age people and the Celts - ventured into this woodland for hunting and foraging they made little impression on it. Neither did the Romans who drove their straight roads through it and encouraged the Celts to mine the iron that lay within it. It was the Saxons who made the first serious incursions into this ancient woodland, clearing and carving out plots for cultivation and settlement and possibly introducing some form of management in the woodland. Even their progress was limited, however, and in Norman England it is estimated that 70% of the Weald was still covered in trees, compared with less than 20% over the rest of country.

Tortoiseshell butterfly The ancient woodland of the Weald was mixed woodland. The earliest wildwood was formed by birch replacing the grasses and other alpine vegetation which would have occupied the area of the Weald at the end of the last Ice Age. Birch was largely displaced by pine and this was followed by hazel, elm, oak and alder. Lime, beech and holly appeared at a later stage and while some species declined others came to the fore, aided by climatic changes and different soil types. In the west Weald English oak is likely to have been the dominant tree species.

This ancient woodland has long gone. But it has left a rich legacy in the form of the local fauna and flora, including wild plants, the flowers of which grace the woodland floor in April and May each year. Many of these e.g. wood anemone, bluebell, wild garlic and dog's mercury are 'old forest indicators'; other 'old forest indicators' include invertebrate and lichen species which have survived from the wildwood by way of ancient trees which may have had a secondary connection with the wildwood e.g. trees occupying land which has never been free of tree cover. It is intriguing to think that the spectacular oak tree adjacent to Oaktree House, said to be 600 years old, and those on the Common east of the cricket field could have an indirect association with the wildwood. Today, Surrey is the most wooded county of England, with a 20% tree cover. Dunsfold and the surrounding countryside contributes its fair share of that percentage. Not all of it is deciduous woodland and further out there are large Forestry Commission conifer plantations, some of which straddle the county (Surrey/Sussex) border.

The Common

Violets The Common is typical of much of the common land in Surrey although most of the traditional commoner's rights attached to the village are long gone. Almost half of the 31 hectares is secondary deciduous woodland and a third grassland. Because it has undergone a metamorphosis from a stock grazing to an amenity common it offers little in the way of rarity but it is of value as a local wildlife habitat. A recent survey (Dunsfold Common Management Plan 1998. Waverley Borough Council) recorded 179 species of flora (some of which are garden escapees), several mammal species, six Dragonfly and Damselfly species and seven reptiles/amphibians.

Additionally a number of ponds add both visual and conservation interest to the Common.

In such a well-wooded and naturally diverse area it is not surprising that a large number of bird species, including summer and winter migrants, are seen. Lists are currently being prepared. Woodanenome

Local bridleways and rights of way

Four bridleways and five public footpaths cross the Common and thus serve the village. For equestrians and walkers this opens up an extensive network of bridleways and footpaths, an ideal way of seeing and getting to know the countryside around the village.

By way of an introduction to the countryside around our village try the following comparatively short walk, starting and finishing at the Sun Inn (what better place to start and finish a walk?).

Map of walk

Roe deer and gardens

The Roe deer is one of two deer species indigenous to Britain. Some 62-69cm tall at the shoulder with prominent mobile ears they are dainty creatures very much of the 'Bambi' image. They are inquisitive and adaptable animals and flourish in woodland with abundant undergrowth. Predominantly browsers as opposed to grazers, bramble and wild rose are especially favoured foods.

Given these attributes it is not surprising that they take advantage of intensively reared food in the shape of cultivated roses and other garden produce when the opportunity arises. Sadly this activity gives them a bad press and some gardeners (as well as foresters and farmers) label them as pests. What can be done to alleviate the problem? In the forest and on the farm deer populations can be managed to keep numbers, and therefore damage, to acceptable levels by selective culling with the rifle (in experienced hands the only lawful means available to effect humane control) but for obvious reasons this is not feasible in the immediate vicinity of the village.

There are a number of commercially available chemical repellents (amongst them synthetic lion's dung - acquiring your own from a safari park is not recommended) which may provide short-term protection. Human hair put out in bags is also said to discourage deer, as are strips of plastic rustling in the breeze. Electric fencing may also provide temporary relief. But there is only one sure way of preventing deer trespass and that is by fencing.

It is commonly believed that deer will simply jump over fencing if it is not sufficiently high. They will, but their preference is to go under instead of over and they can squeeze through the tiniest of gaps if they put their minds to it. So for Roe a height of 1.8m is ample. Woven and welded wire mesh fencing set a few centimetres into the ground and with a 150mm mesh - anything larger will allow kids (the young of Roe deer are called kids) access and you will have a problem with a kid (or kids) on the one side and the mother on the other - is ideal.

The cost of fencing is a small price to pay for the privilege of enjoying the company of these attractive creatures.

Finally, remember to close gates - an open gate attracts the curiosity of Roe deer.

More detailed information about Roe and other deer species is to be found at the British Deer Society's website.

White Fallow Deer

White fallow deer are the inhabitants of the local deer park at Loxhill owned by Sir Trevor Nunn. Click here to open an article on white fallow deer written and illustrated by Michael Baxter Brown. To open the article Adobe Acrobat Reader is required. If you do not have it installed first click here to download the Reader free.


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