Chalk downland and Roman snail conservation in Surrey

We are thrilled to see great progress being made on The Downs, the former Travelling Community site in Caterham, by Toureen Group on behalf of Surrey County Council. Commencement of site works in January marks an important milestone for the project, which has been in the making since before 2019.

An important land remediation and conservation project, it comprises the restoration of an internationally rare habitat but which is present across several areas within Surrey. Chalk grassland is a rich habitat and in terms of botanical diversity can contain as many as 45 species per square metre. Up until the Second World War, traditional grazing practices ensured that this habitat was maintained in a wildlife friendly manner, but since then large areas have been lost to development and intensification of agriculture. The cessation of traditional grazing further exacerbates the loss of habitat because once grazing stops, coarse scrub quickly becomes dominant, out-competing wild flowers.

The site also contains a local population of over twenty Roman snails (Helix pomatia) which required translocating to another part of site prior to land remediation and earthworks. Roman snails prefer chalky/alkaline soils and so geographically are generally found in the south of England. They are typically larger in size compared to the other snail species in England and are characterised by their creamy brown/ off-white shell colour. Individual snails can spend their entire lives (upto 20 years) within a 30 metre area! They are protected under The Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended) and Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) due to over-exploitation, mostly for the hospitality industry as an escargot delicacy. It is illegal to kill, handle or possess them and a Natural England Schedule 5 Protected Species Licence is required to touch, handle or move them. We have worked closely with Surrey Wilidlife Trust to promote the conservation of this species on the site.

When complete early summer of 2022, the site will again become an important habitat that will be accessible to the public and walkers alike to enjoy. The CampbellReith team are proud to have driven the technical designs forward post-planning and also are Project Manager and Contract Administrator for the capital works contract.

Aerial image: copyright Toureen Group, reproduced with permission