AONB submission 2022



Evidence in support of the EA7 extension of the Surrey Hills AONB

Report compiled by Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Bird Group (CFBWBG)



As a local resident and member of a local group of wildlife enthusiasts - the CFBWBG - I write on behalf of the group in support of the EA7 area being added to the Surrey Hills AONB.

This document presents relevant data from the area covered by the CFBWBG, which forms a large part of the north-eastern section of EA7.

The area we cover is comprised of a wonderful mix of habitats from open farmland and hedgerows to rare chalk downland through to pockets of scrub and immature woodland through to the substantial area of ancient woodland - Banstead Woods - which carries a SSSI designation. This habitat range creates great diversity of flora and fauna, some species being rare and of national importance.

Birds are the focus of our group and the bird-watching opportunities are exceptional. Around 90-100 bird species are recorded on our site every year and the total number of species ever recorded on our site approaches 150. We have a significant population of breeding birds - both resident and migratory - and the site is well known for the number and range of bird species that drop in on migration in the spring and autumn.

In addition to the birds, as general naturalists we also record interesting plants and the full range of other fauna from mammals to reptiles to insects, especially the butterflies which this area is particularly renowned for.

The land use of the area is broadly split into two. The western farmland is used primarily for the production of cereal crops and hay. The downland and woodland has almost no economic use although it is of great value to wildlife. It is now used for leisure, natural history conservation, dog-walking and, increasingly, photography - as this submission will demonstrate. There are a significant number of public footpaths and bridleways criss-crossing the entire area so public access is very good.

The situation is relatively stable and healthy from an environmental perspective for now. A worry for local residents, nature-watchers and walkers, however, is the potential for change of land use on the farmland, which may be precipitated by the present farmer ceasing to run the farm in future. It is notable that the farmland per se appears to be owned by an offshore property development firm who may not share our concern for the environment.

With its range of habitats and ecological diversity to match, this section of EA7 is an exceptional natural asset for wildlife and human visitors. Both at individual species level and viewing the landscapes as a whole, the natural beauty is truly outstanding and we request that EA7 is added to the Surrey Hills AONB to protect it for future generations.


Introduction & purpose

I write in support of the Extension Area EA7 being included in the revised boundaries of the Surrey Hills AONB. I am a Kingswood resident - living yards away from the EA7 boundary - but also write as a representative of an active nature-watching group - the Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Bird Group (CFBWBG).

The text below will hopefully provide an introduction to many aspects of the area that our nature group covers. In addition, I attach a number of photographs showcasing not only the landscape but examples of the very diverse flora and fauna that can be seen on the site. The AONB adjudicators are very welcome to request more data at their convenience.

For the purposes of this submission, I will confine by comments, data and photographs to the CFBWBG area as detailed below. Suffice it to say, however, we are wholly in support of the totality of the proposed EA7 extension.



Information on, and the wildlife records of, the CFBWBG can be found on the website: Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Birds ( The group was set up about 12 years ago to record wildlife in this area. We focus on birds, but as keen amateur naturalists we also record mammals, wildflowers, butterflies, moths, dragonflies/damselflies, fungi and more besides. We usually four annual bird walks, one annual butterfly walk and occasional plant walks. The public are very welcome on all these walks which are free.

It should be noted that there are other nature and landscape conservation related groups operating on the site - notably the Downlands Partnership (a body connected to Surrey CC), the Banstead Commons Conservators and the Woodchip Conservation Volunteers. They will no doubt be as equally supportive of the AONB as CFBWBG but we have not coordinated our approach with them at this time.


The Area covered by this submission

We have a recording area defined by a map on the website as follows:

Canons Farm & Banstead Woods Birds: Map ( and the image is also attached to the photographs. As can be seen, this area represents a substantial part of the north-eastern proposed EA7. Indeed, add the small but attractive areas known as Chiphouse Wood and Park Downs and there is a clear match to that north-eastern area.


A note on the birds

About 90 - 100 bird species are recorded annually, with the majority being recorded at Canons Farm. The highest annual count was 111 species recorded in 2012. In total, 147 species have been recorded.

The area has a healthy population of traditional farm and woodland breeding birds such as pheasants, kestrels (photo Bds06), woodpeckers (photo Bds02), nuthatches, tits, whitethroats and blackcaps. We also have 20th century imports including rose-ringed parakeets (photo Bds01) and red-legged partridges (photo Bds08). In addition, a number of bird species that are uncommon or decreasing in south-east England breed or feed in this area. These include hobbies, yellowhammers, linnets, skylarks, bullfinches, house sparrows and starlings. Owls are a particular feature of the area as little owls (photo Bds03) and tawny owls (photo Bds07) breed successfully. Barn owls (photos Bds04 and Bds05) visit the site regularly and bred successfully in 2020.

Canons Farm is well-known for its passage migrants in the spring and autumn. Regular migrants include wheatear, whinchat, stonechat and common redstart, but less common species such as ring ouzel and black redstart occur. A number of species of birds of prey appear sporadically and these have included peregrine falcons, merlin, hen harriers and short-eared owls.

In winter, large flocks of visiting redwings, fieldfares, linnets, redpolls and other species rely on the area, especially the farmland, for food.

Several uncommon bird species that occur in our area include firecrests and marsh tits that breed in the woods and ravens which have recently become a regular visitor. Red kite sightings are increasingly frequent but they have yet to breed. Very rare lesser spotted woodpeckers bred successfully on the site until just a few years ago and we hope for their return.


Other wildlife

The area is home most notably to roe deer (photos Mam02 and Mam03), foxes (photo Mam04), badgers (photo Mam01) and rabbits. Other mammals not so easily seen include weasels, rats, wood

mice, field voles, shrews, moles and various species of bat. Hedgehogs had all but died out a few years ago but are now making a real comeback in nearby gardens so recolonisation should be imminent.


The area also has a large variety of butterflies. 40 species have been identified since 2010 including several rarities. Banstead Woods and adjacent fields is unusually good for butterflies hosting the majority of the 59 regularly occurring UK species. These include Brimstones (photo But07), Silver-Washed (photo But04) and Dark Green Fritillaries and a number of chalk downland specialists such as Marbled Whites (photo But03), various species of blue butterfly such as the chalkhill blue (photo But06), the recently re-introduced small blue (photo But05), small coppers (photo But01) and the beautiful green hairstreaks (photo But02) that feature briefly each April.


Moths are abundant but not researched extensively by this group. Diurnal moths such as cinnabars, burnets (photo Mot01) and the migratory hummingbird hawkmoths are, however, noted.


Other insect groups like bees (photo Bee02), wasps and grasshoppers are again common but not well covered by our group. Nevertheless, we do record unusual sightings such as the spring bee flies, the autumnal ivy mining bees (photo Bee01) or the summer Rousel’s bush crickets - a nationally scarce species now found in abundance on the downland. Glow-worms (actually beetles - photo GW01) are seen at both adult and larval stages and the adult females can produce interesting light displays in early summer nights on Chipstead Downs.


The pond areas feature several species of dragonflies and damselflies that breed there but the site is visited sporadically by several other species of odonata that fly in seeking prey.


The site has frogs inhabiting the limited pond areas and there are small populations of slow worms (photo Rep01) and common lizards, mainly found on the south-facing slopes of the downland.


Molluscs are not studied but the woodlands and nearby hedgerows notably feature the large, white and geographically localised roman snail (photo Mol01).


Plant life

There is a truly excellent variety of plant species and the chalk downland to the south-east and east of the site can be a riot of colour in late spring and summer. CFBWBG has so far counted 315 plant species including several national rarities such as ground pine (photo WF06) and cut-leaved germander (photo WF07). Seven species of orchid including fly (photo WF01) and bee orchids (photos WF02 and WF03) occur. The commonest orchids are the common spotted (photo WF04) and pyramidal (WF05). Other downland flowering plants include greater yellow rattle (photo WF08), viper’s bugloss (photo WF09) and all manner of types of daisy, dandelion/hawkbit and scabious families. Woodland specialities tend to flower in spring and include stitchwort, wood anemone, wood sorrel and, of course great swathes of bluebells (photos BWB01 and BWB02) for which Banstead Woods and the smaller woods around Canon’s Farm are renowned. Other rare species that occur include the late-summer flowering violet helleborine and the non-photosynthesising toothworts and yellow birdsnest.



The woodlands in particular are festooned with fungi, especially in the autumn. Again, we are not experts but we do like to record unusual sightings. As an example, on our late-2021 winter bird walk one sharp-eyed attendee found a striate earthstar mushroom (photo Fun01), which turned out to be one of only a handful of discoveries of this species in Surrey ever. Other fungi species include impressive giant puffballs that occasionally grow in the farmland, and woodland species include common puffball (photo Fun02), porcelain fungus (photo Fun03) and fluted bird’s nest fungus (photo Fun04).


Geology, Geography and Habitat Diversity

Photographs LS01 to LS10 show a range of landscape views of the EA7 area.

The site is an upland part of the North Downs. Much of it is over 500 feet above sea level with some over 600 feet. The terrain on the highest ground is gently rolling but the eastern and southern parts of the site feature steep, generally south- or south-east-facing slopes as the terrain plunges into the chalk dry valley of Chipstead Bottom.

The dominant underlying rock in the whole area is the Upper Chalk formation of the late Cretaceous period and this has a profound effect on the soils. To the very west of the site the chalk is overlain by a

thin layer of Eocene Thanet Sands but this formation is hardly visible in what is a farmland and hedgerow zone.

The chalk varies from being all but exposed at the surface to being at most a few feet below superficial, perhaps erosional formations such as clay-with-flints. Where soils are thin - such as on the steeper slopes to the south and south-east of the site - many downland plants thrive, including some of the biggest rarities.

In terms of the woodland, Banstead Woods alone amounts to over 100 hectares and is predominantly ancient woodland with assemblages of oak, beech, chestnut, ash (albeit subject to die-back) and so forth. The woods have been subject to some changes in human use over the last few hundred years so there some non-native species like Japanese larches, and there are also patches of invasive species like rhododendrons and balsam. Attempts have, however, been made to cut back the advance of these plants.

The overriding feature of the site’s vegetation is one of a long human battle against the whole area being covered in the natural native scrub which would make way for mature, deciduous woodland over time. Banstead Woods and the smaller areas like Lunch Wood and Ruffett Wood are indicative of what the whole area would look like in time if left to nature. The downland and farmland are man-made habitats and only persist whilst the scrubland, hedgerows and immature trees are kept at bay. Whilst these areas are not strictly natural, scrubland, hedgerows and downland nevertheless provide extremely valuable habitats for flora and fauna in their own right so the occurrence of the different vegetation zones adds hugely to the overall ecological diversity and interest of the area.

It is notable that, from a wildlife perspective, each habitat does not exist in a vacuum - they are inter-connected. Mammals like roe deer and badgers and birds like woodcock hold up in the woods during the day and come out onto the farmland and downland to feed at night. Owls need holes in large trees to roost and nest in but only the tawny owls generally feed inside the woods. The others hunt in the open. Large numbers of resident and visiting birds rely on the farmland for food throughout the year.

From the perspective of a nature-watcher the sheer diversity of habitats and thus flora and fauna presented by the CFBWBG / EA7 area in total is a major feature that draws people in from miles around. It can be viewed as a fully-integrated ecosystem, not simply discrete habitats.


Land use and the potential for change

There is only one road through the farm and an access road into the woods. Canons Lane is used for access to the farm fields and the few isolated houses that are, or have been, associated with the farm.

Broadly, the western side of the site is farmland worked by Canons Farm. The fields are separated by hedgerows, albeit that some are in a state of disrepair whilst others are healthy. The edges of many fields have public footpaths so the public can and do pass through, and cross, the farmland. In previous generations the farm had cattle and sheep but no longer. The flatter fields are now used for crops - generally wheat, barley and beans - whilst the steeper slopes are simply used to grow grass for silage or hay.

The eastern side of the site is a combination of woodland - with scrub boundary - and downland.

Although the local council - most regretfully - do cut down some of the flower meadows in the summer to sell for hay, much of it remains relatively untouched. The great majority of the downland and woodland area thus has no commercial purpose but is widely used for recreation by local residents, visitors and their dogs. It is noticeable that whilst human use has been increasing for many years, the whole process was accelerated during the Covid lockdown periods. There are now more people and indeed dogs utilising the site than ever before.

There is a shotgun-based shooting club centred on Ruffett Wood where pheasants are sometimes reared. This appears to cater for a relatively small group of participants, rather than being a significant commercial operation open to the public. Reared pheasants are shot along with species that are regarded as vermin. The club appears to be well run, adheres to a code of conduct and very rarely comes into conflict with members of the public or our bird group.

With the clear existing protections for the downland and woodland and SSSI, development of those areas for housing or industry seems unlikely. This may not, however, be the case for the farmland, which faces two potential issues. First and foremost, we believe that the land is owned by an offshore property development company. With the best will in the world they didn’t buy it to watch the deer. Secondly, as the farmer is elderly and her family is unlikely to continue with the farming activities after she retires, a new management arrangement for the farmland will most likely have to be found within a few years. This would present an ideal opportunity for the landowner to seek a change of use for much or all of the existing farmland and perhaps any unprotected areas of isolated woodland like Lunch Wood or Ruffett Wood, even though most is greenbelt land. We believe that the potential for developers attempting to build houses or industrial facilities on this land is thus very real.


Land designations

Banstead Woods is designated as a SSSI and is a Local Nature Reserve in accordance with the rarity of some of the plant life. We also understand that the CFBWBG site in general carries the designation Area of Great Landscape Value.


Why should the area be part of an AONB?

We believe that the whole of the site being discussed should become part of the extended AONB. In a county where countless acres are developed and concreted over annually, the area in question is - quite literally - a breath of fresh air with tremendous value for both humans and nature, some of the latter rare and disappearing. As a group we feel that we have barely touched the surface of the diversity of fauna and fauna we encounter and there is considerable scope for more study and much to learn on this fascinating site. As I hope we have showed with our photographs, there is real natural beauty on display here from the smallest ground pine flower to the largest oak, from the tiniest insect to the largest deer, from the diminutive wren to the biggest goose and from open fields and hedgerows through to dark ancient woodland. We feel that granting this site AONB status will secure the future of this marvellous piece of countryside for the enjoyment of future generations and the preservation of an important and diverse site for nature.


A note on the compiler - Ian Magness

I have been lucky enough to have lived in Forest Drive, Kingswood - right next to EA7 - for 24 years. My children are now young adults but were brought up here from birth and benefitted hugely from the immediate access to such a lovely area of countryside enabling both exercise and an appreciation of the natural world across the seasons. I am a dog owner and walk across this area on almost a daily basis.



List of photographs


N.B. All photographs have been taken by CFBWBG members in recent years. All were taken on the site except for the drone photo - LS10 - which was taken looking onto the area from Kingswood.


Image Number





Looking east toward Banstead Woods from Stoney Nob, summer


Looking south from Stoney Nob onto eastern Kingswood, spring


Looking east toward Lunch Wood from Reads Rest Lane, spring


Looking west over Tattenham Meadow, summer


Looking north over Chipstead Meadow and rosebay willowherb, summer


Looking north over Greenbelt Field, spring


Looking north-west toward Canon’s Farmhouse and Broadfield East, winter


Looking south on Broadfield West, summer


Looking west toward Infront George East field from Lunch Wood, winter


Drone photo looking north from the east side of Kingswood. The white building in the distance is Perrott’s Farmhouse and Banstead Woods is to its left, winter




Banstead Woods, spring


Chiphouse Wood, spring




Pair of rose-ringed parakeets


Male great spotted woodpecker


Little owl


Barn owl with prey - probably field vole


Barn owl


Female kestrel


Tawny owl


Red-legged partridge






Roe deer doe in bluebells


Roe deer buck with antlers shedding velvet





List of photographs


Page 2 of  2


Image Number





Small copper


Green hairstreak


Marbled whites feeding on wild marjoram


Silver washed fritillary feeding on wild marjoram


Small blue feeding on kidney vetch


Chalkhill blue feeding on wild basil


Brimstone feeding on spear thistle




Mating six spot burnets




Ivy mining bee feeding on ivy


Common carder bee feeding on spear thistle




Glow worm larva




Slow worm




Mating Roman snails




Fly orchid


Bee orchid


Bee orchid (note the variable morphologies)


Common spotted orchid


Pyramidal orchid


Ground pine


Cut-leaved germander


Greater yellow rattle


Viper’s bugloss




Striate earthstar


Common puffball


Porcelain fungus


Fluted bird’s nest fungus




The map used by the CFBW Bird Group for placing sightings