So what do the Conservators actually do and how is it paid for?
Although the Conservators and the officers are all volunteers, the management of the Heath is far from amateurish. The Conservators receive expert advice from a specialist forestry management company on the management of the woodlands. In recent years this has resulted in much needed clearance work, essential for the long-term health of the woods and already showing benefits as healthy new saplings and undergrowth emerge. Advice is also received from bodies such as English Nature and the Forestry Commission, and the Conservators work closely with representatives of Elmbridge Council. Approximately two years ago the Conservators received an unexpected windfall gain and, have since embarked on a five-year programme of improvements to the woods, paths, steps, horse-rides and signage. Hopefully local residents have seen the benefits, including the recently completed Trail 2000, completed with the assistance of FEDORA.
And now for the rub. The Act of 1904 made no provision as to how the maintenance of the Heath should be paid for. Over the years much of the funds have been provided by subscriptions from local residents, supplemented by grants from the local council and bodies such as the Forestry Commission. None of these are guaranteed however, and following the windfall gain referred to above, Elmbridge Council has significantly cut its grant to the Conservators. As a consequence the income of the Conservators is now significantly less than the ever-increasing outgoings. Although the financial position of the Conservators is not currently in jeopardy, the number of local residents who are subscribers is persistently declining, now less than 150 compared to over 300 only a few years ago.
How can you help? Firstly, these are your woods. Please help take care of them and report those who don’t. Secondly, please consider making a donation or becoming a regular subscriber. The new Gift Aid rules mean that when gifts are given by a taxpayer the Conservators can reclaim the tax from the Inland Revenue, making any gift even more valuable. If you would like to become a subscriber, please download and complete the donation form