Preserve Our Reserve – End of Year Update (December 2020)
Photograph by James Giles

Preserve Our Reserve – End of Year Update (December 2020)

As we come to the end of 2020, the Preserve Our Reserve Advisory Committee would like to provide an update to all our supporters with the progress that has been made since we launched the fund at the beginning of June, shortly after the devastating fire that did so much damage.

We have been working closely with Natural England (NE) and we are all extremely grateful for the huge amount of community support that we have received for the Thursley National Nature Reserve (NNR).  We have all been overwhelmed by the large amount of money donated to the Preserve Our Reserve fund – now standing at over £50,000 – and we are committed to working with all our stakeholdersto ensure that the fund is used carefully for the purposes for which it was donated. 

We are also looking at ways of adding to the fund. In September, we submitted a detailed application to Waverley for Community Infrastructure Levy funds.  We believe that we put forward a very strong case and indeed Waverley confirmed in advance of our submission that our application would certainly appear to ‘tick all the boxes’.  We were therefore very disappointed when the deadline for applications was extended until the end of January, therefore delaying any grants being made, but we remain hopeful that we may receive additional funds from Waverley in the Spring.

Since the fire, you will have noticed that NE have undertaken significant ‘recovery’ works, including tree safety, improving the fire-break network, and the removal of the damaged boardwalk. These works have incurred significant, unbudgeted costs for NE, but no ‘Preserve Our Reserve’ funds were used for any of these works.

NE have not yet come forward with a design for a replacement boardwalk/trail. Whilst we are anxious to move things forward, we do need to look at ideas that provide a long-term solution for the NNR.  Replacing like for like may not necessarily be the best solution and we must avoid the temptation to rush into trying to find a ‘quick fix’.  NE have to consider a broad range of issues, including the impact on local habitats, future fire risk on the NNR and how this might influence the material/construction type of the boardwalk.  And we all also consider it a priority that any design needs to provide safe disabled access. 

Realistically, it is very unlikely that there will be a replacement boardwalk/dragonfly trail in place before next Spring, and completion of the project may take considerably longer than that.  We did raise with NE the idea of making some immediate funding available to them if that would have enabled at least some of the boardwalk to be replaced over the winter, but the cost of even limited rebuilding would have been significant, and the inevitable delays caused by an appropriate tendering and procurement process, together with planning issues, would have made this impractical.

In the interim, NE’s priority is to ensure the safety of visitors but of course it is impossible to ‘secure’ the route of the boardwalk from access. Therefore, we are now discussing with NE appropriate signage and communications to advise visitors of the current hazardous condition of the route, and to deter visitors from going on to the dragonfly trail, thereby causing further damage.  

Moving forward, NE are currently discussing a range of options and they will then need to obtain quotes to enable them to bid for budget within NE, to supplement the funds that we will be able to make available.  Once an outline proposal or design has been agreed in principle, NE will come back to us for comment. It is likely that any proposal will require planning permission, and NE will have to ensure that any design is compatible with the requirements of the Common Land and nature conservation designations, and then obtain any required permissions. 

Both we and NE have received many offers of practical help, and of course NE already have their regular volunteers on the NNR.  Due to the COVID restrictions, NE have been unable to take advantage of many of these offers, but hopefully if the restrictions are relaxed in the Spring, they will be able to look at this again. 

One of the positive initiatives to come out of the Preserve Our Reserve Group is the establishment of the Friends of Thursley Common.  They are developing a range of initiatives that they hope to introduce in the Spring to provide an effective ‘wardening’ scheme, through which volunteers would monitor the NNR on a programmed basis, both to improve the experience for visitors coming to the NNR, and also keeping an eye out for fire or unacceptable behaviour.  We have provided start up funds to support the establishment of this group.

So, we are making progress, but perhaps not as rapidly as we had originally envisaged – or indeed would have liked.  However, we have to accept that this is a complex task, trying to find the right balance between respecting nature and encouraging responsible visitors to our beautiful Common.

Thank you for your continuing support and encouragement – and we will continue to work with Natural England to deliver a long-term and sustainable solution for the Thursley National Nature Reserve.

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Farnham Herald Article on the Thursley NNR fire


Fire crews stand down after 470 acres of rare heath destroyed at Thursley

Thursday, 4 June 2020 – Emergency Services

Daniel Gee

by Daniel Gee – Head of Content@danielgeeheralddaniel.gee@farnhamherald.com

Almost half of the 1,100-acre Thursley Common, including much of the Thursley National Nature Reserve, has been destroyed (Photo: Lucy Brooks)

Printed and digital download photos available

Many sites are currently extremely dry, meaning wildfires such as this incident can easily occur and spread

THE CAUSE of the blaze that ripped through more than 470 acres of rare, protected heathland at Thursley Common this week – depriving endangered species such as the Dartford Warbler their habitat, and threatening homes in Thursley and Elstead – is still unknown.

But the message from the countless villagers, farmers, police and fire crews who spent all hours tackling the wildfire and helping those affected by the blaze since Saturday afternoon is clear and universal: take your barbecues, camp fires and cigarette butts as far away from our bone-dry heathland as possible.

Sadly, it’s a message that still doesn’t seem to be getting through, with a group of teens spotted using a disposable barbecue to light a fire at nearby Hankley Common on Tuesday, threatening a second blaze in quick succession.

Fire crews have, as of Friday, now left the site – their dampening of the charred heath aided by a short shower of rain on Thursday.

But at the height of the blaze over the weekend around 40 firefighters, working on a rotational basis, were tasked with bringing the Thursley fire under control – with the help of four Unimog fire appliances, four Land Rover wildfire units, one high-volume pump, water carriers and command support personnel.

This tells only half the story, however, as a huge community effort also mobilised on Saturday, with local farmers joining the fire-fighting efforts (see this week’s print edition) and Thursley and Elstead parish councils quickly establishing rest centres in anticipation of mass evacuations.

In the end, these were thankfully not required – nor was Waverley Borough Council’s fall-back rest centre in Godalming – as the blaze was brought under control before reaching homes.

Surrey assistant chief fire officer Kasey Beal said: “Our firefighters have done a tremendous job in limiting the fire spread to the commons area, and in preventing the fire from further threatening Thursley village. While the cause of the fire is not yet known, we urge everyone to refrain from using disposable barbecues, having camp fires, and to ensure smoking materials are fully extinguished while enjoying the outdoors.”

Pat Murphy, chairman of Elstead Parish Council, added the common was home to numerous rare and protected species of birds, reptiles, plants and insects, and it would take “many years” to get back to its past splendour.

“The reserve has been a wonderful place to escape to during the period of enforced lockdown and it is heartbreaking to see the huge areas of devastation,” he said.

Mr Murphy gave thanks to the emergency crews who “worked tirelessly in extremely challenging circumstances”.

He added: “Special appreciation must also be given to our local farming friends who really were the fourth emergency service this weekend and without whose support the extent of the damage would have been far worse.

“Elstead Parish Council is extremely grateful for all the offers of help and support it has received over the past few days. We are working closely with Thursley Parish Council to determine how these offers can best be utilised.”

Both parish councils have also requested people stay “well away from this area for the foreseeable future” – and in particular the nature reserve and boardwalks.

While it is not clear what the cause of the fire was, James Mendelssohn, the chairman of Thursley Parish Council, made the plea: “Please do not use cigarettes, barbecues and camp fires anywhere near the wonderful commons in and around our region.

“It is quite clear following this tragedy how quickly fire can get out of control and the lasting impact it can have.”

James added his thanks to borough councillors for Elstead and Thursley, Jenny and David Else, who were also at the heart of the community efforts over the weekend.

Jenny told the Herald: “When I first heard the Thursley common was on fire, I alerted the parish council and we made arrangements to open a rest centre to be ready receive any evacuees. The cricket pavilion and the village hall were both on standby from 6.30pm.

“We provided a cup of tea and a listening ear to two lovely ladies and their budgie, who were brought to us by the police. But fortunately all evacuees were able to be quickly re-located with friends and family.

“The two parish councils and David and I have, out of necessity during this emergency, worked extremely closely together and continue to do so.

“Both villages are very close communities and the amount of goodwill that becomes evident at times of emergency is boundless.”

A spokesman for Waverley Borough Council added: “As soon as Waverley Borough Council was made aware of the fire on Saturday evening, the council activated its emergency protocols and sent an incident liaison officer to the scene, to support the lead agencies who were responding to the incident.

“On Sunday, at the request of the police, the council set up a rest centre in Godalming, which complied with social distancing guidelines, to ensure that there was somewhere residents could go if they needed to evacuate.

“However, all residents who were asked to leave their homes by police or fire service opted to stay with friends or family – or made alternative arrangements. The centre remained on stand-by until Tuesday, when the police said it could stand down.

“We would like to thank the fire service, police, parish councils and local volunteers for their prompt and diligent response to this incident. Many councillors, residents and council officers worked together from Saturday to deal with this fire.

“Though the cause of the fire has not yet been determined, we would like to remind everyone to ensure they properly dispose of cigarette ends and avoid using barbecues and lighting campfires on the borough’s parks, countryside and green spaces.

“Many sites are currently extremely dry, meaning wildfires such as this incident can easily occur and spread.”

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Preserve Our Reserve

Following the devastating fire at the weekend Elstead and Thursley Parish Councils are now able to share with you details of our joint initiative the ‘Preserve Our Reserve’ campaign.


The following link will give individuals more details and will streamline a way for supporters to donate money and/or volunteer time.
This is still early days and we will be working closely with James Giles to see how best to use any donations and volunteers.
https://elsteadvillage.co.uk/por-campaign-launch/

The fundraising page is here – https://www.gofundme.com/f/preserve-our-reserve-thursley-nnr-support-fund

We thank you for your generous support.

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Thursley Common – Fire Update

Surrey Fire & Rescue Service have assessed the common earlier this morning and we can now advise residents that The Common is now open to all visitors. There will continue to be a Fire Brigade presence based at the Moat car park.
Surrey FRS have asked that you stay away from all burnt areas. They remain dangerous and there are many severely weakened trees which do represent a risk. Anyone ignoring this advice does so at their own risk.

Anyone coming across any hot spots or areas that are still burning or smouldering, please dial 999 immediately.
The cause of the fire is as yet unconfirmed. It goes without saying No BBQ’s, No camp fires, No cigarettes anywhere on the common.

Finally, Elstead and Thursley Parish Councils along with James Giles and our Ward Councillors have been working to set up a way to manage all the very kind and generous offers of help and support that we have received over the last few days. We hope to be in a position to make an announcement about this within the next couple of days and thank you for your patience.

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