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Category Archives: Horsell Common Preservation Society

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DSC_0007DSC_0016DSC_0014DSC_0018The people of Woking – and indeed, nearby Chobham – can enjoy a fabulous new amenity as from this weekend. Heather Farm riverside meadows and wetland, a former mushroom farm transformed into a public open space, is open to the public, thanks to the hard work of Horsell Common Preservation Society, which only two months ago opened its peace garden at the restored Muslim Burial Ground, plus the help of Woking borough council.

In the terminology of land use, Heather  Farm is officially a Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANG). To this end, dog walkers are being encouraged to come and use its riverside walks, as well as the splendid Waters Edge café, although they are prohibited from the wetland area, for fear of disturbing the wildlife. HCPS hope that some dog owners will thus will be lured away from using nearby Horsell common, where the dogs can disrupt the heathland habitat of Dartford warblers, nightjars and woodlarks.

Heather Farm’s lake and ponds are intended to provide a haven for waterfowl. Although Wokingmatters only spotted a couple of coots on opening day – a grey, damp Saturday in January –  12 wetland species have been spied there already, including kingfishers, herons, teal, tufted ducks, little grebes, and green sandpipers. Reeds and other water-loving species, including marsh marigold, purple loosestrife, water forget-me-not, branched bur-reed, reedmace, and water plantain were planted on the banks of the lake and ponds in 2013.

There are walks and bridges, and a small hide to observe birds from. There was a constant stream of visitors on opening day, with car park and cafe often packed, even though HCPS had kept the publicity razzamatazz fairly low-key. The Waters Edge cafe has a warm, inviting and relaxed feel, and looks like becoming a popular haven and meeting place.

When I arrived I could still hear the roar of traffic from the main road. After walking around the lake I couldn’t hear it any longer. Funny that. First the beautiful and peaceful garden at the Muslim Burial Ground. Now this wonderful wetlands habitat, truly a place to get away from it all. Horsell Common Preservation Society, you are spoiling us!

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DSC_0149Residents in Woking were given a chance to wander inside the Muslim soldiers’ burial ground and its Islamic-style garden at the weekend, which has been restored by its custodians, Horsell Common Preservation Society, with the help of Woking council. It was only a brief glimpse, but a steady stream of curious visitors made their way from Monument Road to the structure in the woods during its few hours of opening as part of Woking heritage weekend on Saturday and Saturday. The Muslim burial ground was constructed in 1917 when it was known as Woking Muslim Military Cemetery, abandoned in the 1960s when the remains there were removed to Brookwood military cemetery, and listed in the 1980s by English Heritage. The area once had a dilapidated and eerie quality to it, but now has taken on a new identity. The garden includes a memorial to those originally buried there, a combination of Indian granite and English Portland stone.

DSC_0140Designed by landscaper Lionel Fanshawe of Terra Firma, it includes 27 Himalayan birches, one for each original burial, and pink and white heather, to replicate the heather that was there when the Commonwealth War Graves Commission looked after the site.  A pair of Irish yews flank the memorial stone. English Heritage has funded 80% of the cost of restoring the structure, with the remainder met by Woking Council. The garden has been created with the aid of money from the Army Civilian Covenant Fund, Department of Local Government and Communities, Surrey county council, the sultanates of Qatar and Oman, and the local Muslim community via the Shah Jahan Mosque. Horsell Common Preservation Society has a track record of going far beyond its apparent remit of protecting and preserving the green acres around Woking, and has been creating things of lasting beauty and amenity around the town. The society, which is to open another major project in the next few weeks – the Heather Farm wetlands and wildlife site – is to be praised to the skies for transforming  a ghostly and rather melancholy area on the edge of town into a place of remembrance and peace that all communities in Woking can be proud of. Although the garden and restoration of the surrounding structure has been completed, it still awaits an official opening. Once that has taken place, it will be open 24/7 and lit at night, protected by CCTV.

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Just how much does having motor racing giant McLaren in the borough actually benefit Woking, increasing numbers of residents are beginning to wonder. The latest doubts have emerged after McLaren changed initial plans to expand its technology centre, which had been agreed, on a site on the other side of the A320, to a blueprint adjoining its current HQ, above, that has a much greater impact on the surrounding green belt countryside. Horsell Common Preservation Society has said that McLaren  promised to keep the land which it now plans to build on as open countryside when it was granted permission for its existing building in 1996. The Woking Advertiser quotes a McLaren spokesman as saying that the firm is “an important employer in Woking, providing high quality jobs for over 2,000 people, who all work in an iconic facility which has won countless architectural and environmental awards”. The spokesman added:  “However, we recognise our proposals cannot please everyone. But the planning process is just that – a process – which allows for consultation and discussion. The council will decide whether our scheme is acceptable, but meanwhile, we will engage openly with and listen to all interested parties.” The council is due to make a decision on whether to allow the plans next month. In 2012 McLaren emphatically denied that it had promised to set up a visitor centre in Woking as a condition of its original planning permission, despite the council’s long-standing hopes – a stance that some saw as the company turning its back on the town. In 2013 Woking council’s chief executive, Ray Morgan, said that McLaren’s continuing failure to provide a visitor centre in the town “remains an embarrassment”. Woking’s Conservative MP, Jonathan Lord, is reported by the Woking Advertiser as saying:  “It’s my understanding that this planning permission is going through all the correct processes … this development would bring future high quality jobs to this part of Surrey.”

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It’s just begun to dawn on me how much Horsell Common Preservation Society,  which, according to their website,  owns and manages an amazing 80% of Woking’s public open space,  contributes to the general well-being of the borough.  I’ve just sampled the Bedser Trail, a wheelchair-friendly, 1.2 km DSC_0367circular path that takes you through the pines, birches, heather, gorse and across the occasional bogs of Woodham common. It’s not particularly breathtaking scenery, true, and is bounded on two sides by busy roads, as well as by the Basingstoke canal, but the trail certainly makes the area more accessible and worth the visit. The trail, named after Woking’s cricketing twins, Alec and Eric Bedser,  was established by volunteers from the preservation society, and Surrey Wildlife Trust. As the noticeboard points out, within the woods across the road lies Woking’s mysterious, half-hidden, Muslim war cemetery, empty now of soldiers’ remains, but still retaining an atmosphere of its own.  Here too the preservation society has been involved, securing a grant from English Heritage towards the costs of restoring the structure and grounds with respect and imagination. Work will start in the autumn. And that’s not all. Possibly the society’s most exciting project is the creation of a wetlands habitat at Heather Farm off Chobham Road,  after a land deal with McLaren.  Public access is promised when it is finished, DSC_0368late this year or early in 2014, with paths, boardwalks and hides to observe the aquatic wildlife.  All this, from the organisation that brought you Woking’s fantastic Pegasus tree sculpture back in 2009. Three cheers, I say!

More Bedserama: Woking’s brand-new Bedser Bridge, linking the town and Horsell across the Basingstoke canal alongside the new WWF building, which is still under construction, was opened today, 15 April. Nice, but I think we’ve done the Bedsers proud now. Any chance of the next public structure being named after Paul Weller?