Wild Wonders – August 2023

If you haven’t yet explored the new Knowle Park, you have a great experience in store.   60 acres donated to Cranleigh only about 4 minutes from the High Street.   The generosity of  Nick Vrijland and his family in donating the land, the formation of the Knowle Park Trust headed by Martin Bamford and the vision of landscape architect, Jeff Wood have made this gift to all of us possible.

This park has been about 8 years at the planning stage and the first work towards its construction started in September 2021. The brief was to use native trees and plants, to enhance the natural environment and to provide a place for both adults and children to enjoy.   It is most fortunate that we have Jeff Wood, an  experienced landscape architect to direct the design. I had a  wonderful morning recently visiting the park with Jeff.   Armed with a large scale map and planting plans, it was a fascinating and exciting experience.  Jeff and his family have lived in this area for a very long time – and I think that sensitivity to the existing landscape with its mature trees and understanding of the surroundings has informed and enhanced the plan.  There are  wonderful old oaks,  huge limes which were in flower and smelt delicious during my visit, a poplar with a gigantic mistletoe ball, and whispering pines.   The new plantings include varieties of wild roses, and  native arbutus unedo for their hips and fruit.  There has been substantial planting of osiers – a native willow which used to supply the local trade in basket making.

The last couple of years have been very challenging with a notable shortage of rainfall in this area – and a  destructive icy spell at the end of last year, which did a lot of damage, but   everywhere I could see the resilience of nature.  The re-contouring  of the site creating a large lake and a couple of islands makes a stunning centrepiece to the park.   The smaller island is just for wildlife – and the geese have made themselves very much at home. The work on the park and in the surrounding fields with the new housing developments will have had a disruptive effect on the resident wildlife – but already there are signs that they are moving back and with the enhanced environment, will thrive.

Surrey Wildlife Trust played an advisory role at the beginning,  and I was so pleased to learn that Littlemead Brook, which runs through the site it being cleared and there is a special place which is tentatively marked down as a proposed site for an ‘otters holt’.  I have a special fondness for these animals and it is a sheer coincidence that our house here in Cranleigh was named by a previous owner ‘Otterholt’.   I have often peered into my brook and imagined otters there. Well, who knows?  And even more wonderful would be the return of cranes to Cranleigh.  These iconic birds were apparently quite common until they became the target of ‘sporting’ gentlemen – the last one being shot at the end of the 19th century.  

Kieran Fry and Nigel Bray enjoying work at the dump

The terracing of the slope from Knowle Park nursing home down to the lake  to create an amphitheatre is a bold and interesting piece of design – and a contrast to the more informal parts of the park, like the wild flower meadows and the designated woodland reserve.

I intend to visit the site frequently and watch as it develops and matures.   I will let you know what I notice.  Even better, visit and enjoy the site yourself.

Derek Jarman (1942-1994) was a famous artist, writer, film maker, who is also remembered for the garden he built in the shadow of the nuclear power station in Dungeness. Right on the barren, stony shore and not a place you would first think of as suitable,  he used local plants like thrift, and sea poppies,  and what are called objet trouvé – i.e. anything he found lying round and about, like old lobster pots, pieces of sea smoothed timber and any gift or treasure washed in by the sea. With creativity and sense of fun, his garden,  still lovingly tended,  is a triumph.  And I think, so is the creative treatment of an old portacabin at Cranleigh Recycling Centre.  No need to forage for ojects there, they are delivered by the carload three times a week.  I absolutely love what Kieran Fry, Nigel Bray and Amy Coleman have done there – which apparently they call their ‘wellness’ place.  To create something is to be optimistic about the future, either on a large scale like Knowle Park or a bit of fun at the Dump.  Go and have a look!

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