Elstead & Military Land
For many people, a principal attraction of Elstead is the surrounding Commons which are protected AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty), SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and the Wealden Heaths SPA (Special Protection Area) yet readily available for walking. Some Commons including Hankley, Elstead, Ockley & Royal Commons are also Military Training areas and their use is controlled by the Surrey Commons Military Lands Byelaws 1978 which are displayed at entrances to these commons and can be found here.
Despite being called Commons, Elstead, Ockley and much of Hankley are not Registered Common Land and Public Rights of Way (PRoW) are solely bridleways and footpaths crossing them. However the Byelaws state that the public are permitted to use the lands for open air recreation providing it does not inhibit military use. There are many other restrictions on other activities e.g. horse riders need a permit to use tracks other than Bridleways, Cyclists are also restricted to Bridleways and commercial activities including dog walking agencies are forbidden.
Troops training on Hankley Common use and cross PRoW for movement but they are briefed not to fire blanks within 30m either side of a PRoW, nor to use pyrotechnics (flares, smoke grenades, thunderflashes etc.) within 100m either side when members of the public are present. If you go off the PRoW and come across troops, please turn back or take an alternative route for your own safety and to avoid disrupting training.
Military use is primarily based on Hankley Common which at 560 hectares is larger than the other commons put together. Hankley contains the Dropping Zone (DZ) at one end of the bowl where paratroopers were trained, initially from a barrage balloon and later dropped from aircraft. There are a number huts but no troops are permanently based on Hankley Common.
Use of the Commons by Canadian Troops during WWII
Use of the Commons by Canadian Troops during the Second World War is well known, with nearby Peper Harow House requisitioned for the Canadian Army Headquarters. Westbrook House at the northern entrance to Hankley Common was requisitioned as their Officers’ Mess.
Their use in the First World War is commemorated by a plaque on a tree on Church Green marking the place where King George V descended from his motor vehicle and mounted his horse to inspect the troops on Hankley Common.
The Defence Infrastructure Organisation
The Military Lands are managed by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) South East Region which is based at Longmoor Camp near Liss. Army units of all types book parts of the Common for their training exercises. DIO have Training Marshals to monitor these units and Wardens who can interact with the public.
DIO also have a Government imposed objective to earn money from their assets when not needed for training. Hankley has frequently been used for film sets; it is close to London, plenty of unobstructed space. Several James Bond films had scenes shot here, most recently in Skyfall his Scottish ancestral home was blown up twice! The latest Kingsman film built two sets in the DZ area.
DIO has established two liaison committees to help in the management of their Commons – the Hankley User Group (HUG) and the Hankley Common Conservation Group (HCCG).
Hankley User Group
HUG was established some years ago after some problems to “de-conflict” military and public use of the Commons. It meets three times a year. As well as the DIO personnel it has representatives of the British Horse Society, the Ramblers, the Cyclists Touring Club, residents whose access is over the Common and Thursley and Elstead Parish Councils.
DIO say that most days there are up to 100 troops somewhere on the Commons. On some days two or three units can be on different parts of the Common as many as 300 troops at a time. DIO posts notices of these increased training days on the car parks and passes the information to the Parish Council who publish it on the Elstead and Thursley Village Facebook Groups. On occasion this requires the closure to the public of the DZ carpark and this is similarly publicised.
As army training often involves sitting or lying on the ground or in the heather, DIO are particularly sensitive about dog waste as it contains the long-lived Toxocara Canis parasite which if accidentally ingested can cause Toxocariasis, a serious illness which can cause blindness. Children and young people are particularly vulnerable. So please take bags, pick up the poo and dispose of it in a waste bin.
Hankley Common Conservation Group
HCCG is much longer established. As the owner and manager of large areas of SSSI designated land, DIO has significant and expensive obligations to look after the land. HCCG meets twice a year and as well as local commanders has a DIO Ecologists, DIO LMS Rural, DIO Head Forester, DIO Archaeologists, DIO Deer Management, Landmarc Support Services, Natural England, Bird and Butterfly Surveys, Heathland Breeding Bird Society, the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC), Surrey Wildlife Trust (SWT) and Thursley and Elstead Parish Councils.
Landmarc is the DIO contractor who carries out bridleway repairs, forestry harvesting etc. The conservation work is carried out by SWT and ARC whose programmes have to be approved by Natural England and are then paid by the Rural Payments Agency.
Contacting the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO)
- In the event of urgent problems relating to the troops on the Military Commons, then you can contact the DIO directly:
- Ops Room Longmoor01420 483405
- Ops Warrant Officer, Longmoor01420 483422
- Guardroom, Longmoor01420 483399
Otherwise, please contact the Parish Council, who will either take it up directly with the DIO, or raise it at the next Hankley User Group meeting if less urgent. John Mathisen is the Elstead Parish Council representative for both the HUG and HCCG.