To receive an update from the Strategic Access Management and Monitoring Project Team on their work across the partnership area since the Board’s last meeting.
Ruth Shelton, Strategic Access Management and Monitoring (SAMM) Project Manager Natural England, gave a presentation in respect of the work taking place as part of the SAMM project. The presentation summarised the project team’s activities and achievements since the Board’s last meeting and included updates on staffing, warden activity, educational work and monitoring activity.
The project now covered 70 SANGs, having recently taken on responsibility for Chertsey Meads, and on 9th March 2020 15 years of the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area (SPA) had been celebrated.
It was reported that due to the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions on site wardening had been paused between April and May 2020. During the hiatus the SAMM project team completed a significant amount of work to enable the ongoing education of the public about the heathlands including developed a series of species identification guides, developing a series of walks showcasing and linking areas of SANG which could be downloaded via the View Ranger app, developing QR codes so that visitors to the SANGs could learn more about the area and its flora and fauna, developing a new section of the website to raise awareness of volunteering opportunities, participating in the 30 days wild initiative to encourage people to explore wildlife and nature in their area, running a wildfire awareness campaign which was endorsed by three fire and rescue services and shared with 43 secondary schools and 59 primary schools across the project’s area, developed educational and craft activities for children, improved the functionality of the website and ran a ‘virtual’ Heath Week in July.
The Project Team had been restructured and there were now a total of five year round wardens and seven seasonal wardens working across the area. A fulltime data analyst had been employed, a move which would enable the development of a better understanding of the impacts that the SAMM project was having on the SPA and enable the development of a robust evidence base to demonstrate if the mitigation measures were effective.
It was reported that due to a promotion to another organisation the number of year round wardens had been reduced by one. As the amount of wardening work required was less in the winter months, it was proposed that the vacancy would be held open and an additional seasonal warden be employed in the spring. This would take the number of seasonal wardens to seven in 2021.
Arising from the Board’s questions and comments the following points were noted:
· The loss of fire breaks on Chobham Common had been a significant influence on the spread of the wildfire in August which had been declared a major incident and caused significant damage. This was an area of concern for Surrey County Council and this would be followed up with the Borough ward Councillors outside the meeting. It was agreed that the Committee would be kept updated on these discussions.
· Surrey County Council had taken back the management of their countryside estate from the Surrey Wildlife Trust and noticeboards and signs would be rebranded to reflect this.
· The lack of a control heathland area which had not been wardened meant that there was no control against which mitigating wardening actions could be compared. To this end it was hoped that the work of the Data Analyst would provide formal statistical analysis on a range of metrics including bird populations and visitor numbers to provide baseline data.
· The SAMM wardening team aimed to provide coverage across the whole of the SANG and SPA area however it was accepted that more could be done to wok with partners to ensure greater consistency over when areas were wardened.
· The proposed changes to wardening arrangements were noted however it was stressed that a full report would be required if more staff were needed.
i. The contents of the report on SAMM project activity be noted
ii. The proposed wardening arrangements in 2021 be endorsed.