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Chasing Hills

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty Surrey and Gloucestershire Ffyona Speed

Within the UK there are hundreds of nationally identified protected locations such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Landscapes full of natural wonders situated right on the doorstep, although protected, are often forgotten about in the busy bustle of day to day life. By definition, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are areas of countryside in England, Wales or Northern Ireland which are designated for conservation due to their significant landscape value. Groups like The National Trust and English Heritage work hard to preserve and maintain a large majority of these areas, ensuring they are enjoyed by all whilst remaining as untouched as possible. However, with limited amount of funds given to help protect site, preservation can be quite tough at times. A lot of sites rely on donations from the public and renewable yearly paid memberships that grant access to certain managed sites as this is one of the only guaranteed ways to maintain a source of income for some sites. Donations to the sites are greatly appreciated and all donations go back into preserving the natural landscape for future generations to use and enjoy, just as is possible to do now.

Studies have shown spending time in nature and exploring the natural landscape promotes better mental health and wellbeing, as well as providing people with a place to relax and enjoy what nature has to offer, away from the chaos of daily life. Within the UK, green spaces are hugely important for numerous reasons including health benefits and the further provision of homes and habitats for other species of animal which without many animals would be endangered, being displaced into an environment where survival is no longer possible. But unfortunately, only a small percentile of the human population remember that these sites exist, tucked away within communities, fuelling the deterioration of the health and well-being in many adults and enhancing the loss of connectivity with nature, the environment and our surroundings. Yet, it is not all bad and the sites still provide hundreds of people with opportunities to get together and create memories away from computer screens and front rooms. Particular groups of people use the sites more than others such as dog walkers, hikers, cyclists and families with young children with plenty of energy to burn.

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51.1765° N, 0.3715° W “We just came out for a walk - the others in our group are coming so we’re ahead at the moment but we thought we’d just come and take a stroll. It’s such a beautiful area in Surrey, but then that’s the same in the Cotswolds. They’re both beautiful areas of the country. Just beautiful. And we’re not actually a couple, we’re just very good friends!”

The Pallot Family 51.8306° N, 2.6311° W “I work in a school as an art teacher and I’m just out looking for locations for my class! The views here are ideal for art. There’s just so many colours and such amazing views. How could we not appreciate that?”

51.1765° N, 0.3715° W The Surrey Hills are renowned for their cycle trails and paths, attracting hundreds of people to this part of the county for one reason alone - to ride their bikes along the tracks. Cyclists revel in riding up and down the many hills - no one cares about a bit of mud along the way, it is all part of the fun. With thousands of miles of tracks, cyclists can explore new locations throughout Surrey all whilst experiencing the great outdoors and surrounded by Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Cotswolds also offers opportunities for cyclists, with bridleways and quiet country lanes and fewer dirt tracks than Surrey, but the fun and the explorative opportunities are always there, no matter the season.

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A growing concern for society is the constant pressure to upgrade and urbanize land which is gradually beginning to encroach onto our natural landscapes. In some areas, such as Surrey, green belts have been put in place to prevent urbanisation onto these areas with the aim to help maintain the natural landscape as it is. However, with an ever expanding population, it is apparent that there is an urgent need for

additional housing and consequently more more rural landscapes are being lost and built upon in order to meet the demands of a growing society. Whilst spending time in the Surrey Hills and Gloucestershire, the differences and similarities between these amazing Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty became apparent. Nonetheless it also became obvious that not enough people

are aware of the fantastic landscapes and the rich opportunities. So many are missing out on connecting with nature or relieving themselves of daily worries for a couple of hours. Too many deem themselves too tired or busy, but unbeknownst to them, there is a whole other environment just outside their doorstep: a whole other world of peace and serenity, filled to the brim with opportunities and new prospects.

The James Family 51.8306° N, 2.6311° W

Michael and Ellie 50.8512° N, 0.8642° W

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The Howgate Family 51.8306° N, 2.6311° W

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The Williams Family 51.8472° N, 2.0978° W “We often come to this spot. It is just so beautiful and we absolutely love it as it’s so peaceful and especially great at this time of year. This location is also so wonderful for the kids and the dogs too. It gets them out and about!”

51.1765° N, 0.3715° W

In Surrey there is an abundance of hills providing many spectacular views including those towards London in the North and the English Channel in the South. Different locations provide different vantage points and even on cloudier days’ onlookers can see for miles across the landscape, thanks to the stunning rolling Surrey hills. With locations such as Leith Hill having been popular for many decades, there are multiple examples of how our landscapes have changed over the years as they have developed and been undertaken by different owners. Leith Hill is home to an abundance of wildlife and is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. With one of the highest vantage points in the South, it is clear why people still continue to visit in and around this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

51.1765° N, 0.3715° W Landscapes are so varied all around the UK and no two locations are ever identical. So many of these locations are beautiful yet greatly underappreciated and seeing that each landscape is unique, just like any human is a beautiful thing to be able to view. From spending time around the Surrey Hills and the Cotswolds, it began to greatly shape the way in which I viewed the environment and the people I met along the way. Majority of the strangers I encountered along the way were friendly and open, allowing me the chance to see other lives outside of my own and understand just how precious time spent out in the open air can be to some people. There are so many stories to be found, so many precious memories to be made. Outside, there is no pressure other than to just exist and be. As humans there is a need to appreciate the environment whilst we can and make the most of it. After all it is one of the greatest things we have.

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© Ffyona Speed 2016

Chasing Hills - Documentary Perspectives  

A project exploring the natural landscapes and the people that use them within the Surrey Hills and Gloucestershire.

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