Wild Wonders – April 2024

by Miki Marks // Main Photo: Volunteer workers at Knowle Park

There are signs of spring everywhere and I thought a visit to Knowle Park would be timely. This Park and Nature Reserve is probably unique in the country in that it is privately funded but publicly accessible.  I have been involved in conservation work as a volunteer for many years and know how much work goes on behind the scenes – so I thought it would be very interesting to have a tour of the Park with the Park Manager, Grant Pearman.  He has been in post since May 2023 and his enthusiasm for his job and the development of the park is inspirational.  Part of my tour was in Grant’s Kubota buggy, which I greatly enjoyed, especially as the hill felt like quite a climb, and the paths were very muddy.  The view all the way to the Surrey Hills was as rewarding as always.

Grant driving in his Kubota buggy

Grant is responsible for liaising with contractors, Health and Safety regulations and the 50 volunteers, and much more.  This is not a 9 to 5 job!  There are the day-by-day matters as well as forward planning.  There are ongoing projects with Men in Sheds, who share the large barn.  They made the lids for the bins which have been ‘greened’ by Andy.  She and her daughter, Emma Hill,  have also produced the beautiful information boards which you will see in strategic places.   The day I visited there were volunteers taking the canes from the saplings, removing some of the tree guards and laying a path in the Osier Wood with chippings produced on site.  It was obvious that volunteers were there because they felt that the work they were doing was enjoyable and rewarding.  It is interesting to be involved at the start of a project and to see how it develops year by year.  I met one volunteer whose family had lived in Cranleigh for generations.  During his middle years he moved away and now he is very happy to be back.  He explained that although Cranleigh has been greatly altered,  it’s essential character was unchanged and he felt he was home. During my buggy ride with Grant it was good to see how many people knew him, smiled and waved.


I visited one section of the park which was new to me – it  appears in old maps as ‘the Osier Wood’.  This approx 3 acre site is by the brook and low lying.  When I visited it was a very watery place after a lot of recent rain,  and ideal for the willows which in former times supplied the materials for the local basket weavers. This area is designated a SSSI and is fenced in to safeguard the vulnerable nature of the site.  There is much work to be done, with the help and advice of the Woodland Trust, to return this ancient wood to a healthy state.  A number of the trees – particularly the silver birch are not in good condition and possibly a hazard to the public – which is why the area is at present gated.  It is hoped that in the near future visits to this reserve can be arranged, in the company of a guide.   Once the commotion caused by the large adjacent development is finished, it would be good to think that abundant wildlife will return and flourish.

Before and After

It isn’t just large projects like Knowle Park which lift my spirits and convince me that we can still make a difference to our environment.  I have written before about the blight of concreted over front gardens – some of which have been done crudely and without imagination, leaving not even a space for a shrub to contribute to a ‘wildlife corridor’.   So, I was very happy when I noticed a neighbour with a pick axe smashing up the concrete in his front garden.   It was laid thickly and the job was a labour of love.  The plan is to keep the drive but re-instate the garden as it probably was when this road was laid out in the early 1900.   The concrete is now up and top soil has been spread.  The four year old son of the family has made a little model of wood of a possible garden.  I will let you know how this re-gardening progresses.

If you care about Cranleigh and the surroundings, please consider volunteering just a few hours a month.  Beryl Harvey Fields, the Centenary Gardens and Knowle Park will be all the better for your input.

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