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Chairman's Report, Website Report, Cousldon South Gardening Station Project, Facebook Report

Graham Lomas: CHAIRMAN'S REPORT FOR 2019–2020

The Covid pandemic prevented the Friends hosting the customary schedule of walks and talks through the winter and spring months. No fundraising quiz nights too. It is hoped all will return in 2021 as Covid is defeated.

Challenging Times

2020 has been a year like no other, with everyone wondering when things will return to normal. They will not. Any more than the cataclysmic events of 1914-18 and 1939-45 returned things to normal. Few adults living through either war could have forecast what peace would bring. The wars led to massive political and social change; and Covid 19 may do the same, having touched virtually every nation on earth.

For Britain, for now, we appear likely to face the steepest shrinkage in our national economy for perhaps 300 years, with widely differing predictions on how quickly we can recover. The impact is likely to be high and lingering unemployment, with talk of prolonged ‘home-working’, far less commuting, even a hollowing out of central London; and much shuffling round in the housing market. Despite belief in recent years that flats will replace semi-d’s, and that open spaces will be increasingly forfeit as building land gets scarcer, there are now even hints of a suburban resurgence, and pressure to greatly extend green spaces. Just when we thought we’d got the measure of things….

On top of these uncertainties along comes Croydon Council’s insolvency. Grant Thornton’s report on the £67m budget gap, and the Price Waterhouse Cooper’s report on the Council’s Brick by Brick losses, make chilling reading; with big implications both for maintaining major statutory requirements, and paying for the upkeep of community services. Immediate casualties, hinted at an emergency meeting of the Council on 23 November, are parks, recycling centres, leisure centres, and libraries.

Some Good News

Late last year (2019) the City of London invited The Friends to bid for a small grant to help restore the Nature Trail across the Downs and Happy Valley. From February to June 2020, through phase 1 of the pandemic, marker posts along the Trail were replaced, and QR and other directional signs reinstated. Warden Dominic North was helped by City Rangers Tom Oliver, Ed Sanger, and the Downland Partnership.

Over these four months, the earlier booklet on the history and ecology of the area was re-written, and full colour illustrated. Dominic, Ian and Pauline Payne, and myself shared the work. Dominic also persuaded fifteen national celebrities (from theatre, TV, film, music and poetry) to narrate, onto smartphone, all that can be observed at each point along the Trail.

We have been delighted with the results. We think it ‘a first’; which has been well received in the local community. We have had enquiries from elsewhere, asking how it is done. Formal publication was the end of July. Dominic is now negotiating, within the local community, to have the audio narrations in Polish, French, and Hindi also.

The Friends are immensely grateful to ADVANCED PRINT in Coulsdon, and the PISTACHIO CAFÉ in Old Coulsdon for agreeing to stock and sell copies of Exploring Happy Valley and Farthing Downs.

Going National

Very many people in south London – and people further away – appreciate the considerable contribution the City of London Corporation makes in maintaining and conserving open spaces locally, and elsewhere around the Greater London conurbation – continuously for almost 140 years.

Across south London, the City owns Ashtead Common, Farthing Downs and New Hill, Coulsdon and Kenley Commons, Riddlesdown, Spring Bank, and West Wickham Common. These seven areas comprise ‘the City Commons’. In addition, and amid all the gloom and anxiety that the Covid pandemic is creating, it is good to be able to record that Natural England has underlined the very special place these Commons enjoy within the range of open spaces in the metropolis by designating the major part of the City Commons as a National Nature Reserve. A ceremony marking this milestone took place on Farthing Downs in July 2019. The new NNR (it joins Richmond Park and Ruislip Woods as a third London NNR) includes Farthing Downs and New Hill, Coulsdon and Kenley Commons and Riddlesdown owned by the City and Happy Valley and the Sanderstead to Whyteleafe Countryside Area owned by Croydon. It has been named the South London Downs NNR, and is jointly managed by the City and Croydon Council.

A Changing Community

The 2001 census saw Coulsdon’s 22,000 population as increasingly elderly retired, having been built up progressively from the 1930’s as a commuter suburb on the outskirts of London. It was absorbed into the new GLC in 1965 while retaining its leafy Surrey address label. Infilling and consolidation continued through the 1980’s and 1990’s. The present century has seen the emphasis switch to redevelopment and renewal.

First was the replacement of the Cane Hill asylum with nearly 700 dwellings housing over 2,000 people – mostly young. Then in the town centre, around Station Approach, with so far some 273 units housing 1,060. And finally, a gradual spread to surrounding roads as individual large houses are rebuilt – a process called ‘intensification’. There seems no end to this. Sixty schemes so far adding perhaps 1,000 people. More to come.

Coulsdon’s population has risen to 27,000, and its character has markedly changed. Its age profile now has 22 percent under 15s (England only 19 percent.) The over 65’s amount to 17 percent (England’s is 18 percent.) A town rejuvenated; (and with a more thriving shopping centre). The Brick by Brick public housing scheme of 157 dwellings destined for Lion Green, comprising five several storey flats, will change the profile further.

This Green And Pleasant Land

Coulsdon and its immediate surrounding areas nevertheless remain remarkably green – many treelined streets; careful landscaping at Cane Hill, and along the bypass; and still with ample well maintained open spaces, and private gardens. No local crisis yet over carbon capture! But the fact remains that our prized local open spaces were bequeathed all of 80 years ago. Nothing has been added since. Instead, the community is now having to defend the open spaces it has got. The writing on the wall was in the loss of acres of greenbelt – well beyond the footprint of the Cane Hill asylum – to provide more houses there. The Inspector of Croydon’s Local Plan has lately required community groups to justify continued demarcation of particular open spaces – coppices, crofts, greens – as ‘special’ and worthy of upkeep. The Friends are particularly conscious that the consultancy report by Tyrens to the Council broached taking a more commercial approach to the future of Happy Valley perhaps involving caravan parks! The Friends reflected on all this in a paper The Future of Happy Valley perspective by the Friends of Farthing Downs. Croydon subsequently took back responsibility for ground maintenance from Idverde, and continues to review open spaces strategy, in the light of the new NNR.

Down To Earth

Restoration works on the Trail, in Happy Valley, and coppicing and other maintenance tasks have been helped by the Downlands Project, individual volunteers and by groups of up to seventeen volunteers through TCV (The Conservation Volunteers). Interest has remained high despite onset of the pandemic. They offer valued support to the Warden.

Help given to City rangers by a host of volunteers – over coppicing, hedge laying, ditch and scrub clearance, and in clearing holly, yew, hawthorne and bracken overhang, is very well documented in the excellent City Commons monthly newsletters. It is from groups as different as the Coulsdon Common Chain Gang, Kenley Common Volunteer, Riddlesdown Collegiate, Woldingham Schools, and the First Coulsdon Scout Group. Others too. Real and practical public-spirited commitment by local residents to their open spaces. Ironic that as the public flocks to these places to escape Covid, voluntary groups helping maintain them sadly had to be laid off.

Looking Ahead

If some established community services across south London have to be cut, to stave off local council insolvency; and if paying off an enlarged national debt following the pandemic means higher unemployment, the consequences must challenge conventional views about what this Annual Report calls ‘voluntary work’ and ‘voluntary activity’. More of what has been statutory might have to be voluntary – instanced to date locally in managing and running of Marlpit Lane bowling green. Especially if we have more homeworking, earlier retirement, less foreign travel, and greater awareness of climate change and its local consequences.

Perhaps the new South London NNR will help bring sharper focus to all these matters, as all the agencies involved try increasingly to work across long established boundaries. The City Newsletter puts the challenge thus: “as the pressure on the countryside increases and the urban sprawl takes more and more land, nature no longer has a chance to find its own equilibrium.” It is against this background that The Friends and several other voluntary groups that serve different parts of the NNR, may need to share thoughts together and approaches in complementing the work of Natural England, the City, and the Borough, in conserving these major open spaces.

Ian Payne: Website Report

The Friends website is: or use the QR code (below).

Many of the older pages need updating, but this year we have concentrated on several new developments.

National Nature Reserve: There is now a new tab on the main page ‘South London Downs National Nature Reserve’ with basic information about the new NNR (see Chairman’s report) which includes Farthing Downs & Happy Valley.

Nature Trail: This can be accessed as a tab from the Friends website front page, or it has it’s own link or use the QR code (below) which is on all 29 posts of the Nature Trail.

The Nature Trail webpage has been updated to include an alternative audio narration in addition to the text, photographs, illustrations and maps to help you find your way around. Dominic North, the Happy Valley Countryside Warden, has persuaded well-known personalities – actors, musicians, poets, broadcasters, writers and artists to take part.

Dominic is now working on foreign language versions of the audio trail and a new website page is in preparation to accommodate this.

From the Nature Trail page, you can now access a ‘Narrators and Credits’ page. See who our narrators are and listen to the sounds (birds, sheep, nature etc.) which Dominic has added as a background to the narrations.

Donations, Grants and In Memoriam We have added a ‘Donations’ tab to the Friends website main page. Here you can see where our money comes from – of course, we also rely on our members’ subscriptions and donations (not shown on this page). FoFD&HV could not exist without these generous donations which enable us to preserve and enhance our environment and the natural habitat.

Pauline Payne: Coulsdon South Station Gardening Project

The gardening team have met regularly since the easing of the first lockdown restrictions in July and the issuing of Covid-19 health and safety guidelines by GTR for their volunteers. These have been carefully adhered to.

In July, the first task was to look at the new beds created since the construction of the new bridge and plan a new planting scheme. Beds to the north of the entrance to Platform 1 have been re-planted: the bed just before the shelter with herbs; the bed between the shelter and new bridge with perennials and the bed beyond the new bridge sown with wildflower seeds. The team also weeded, tidied and pruned shrubs, where necessary, in the long bed on Platform 1 north and the small bed by the entrance on Platform 2 both of which had not been disturbed by the construction works.

In early Spring the team planted three Silver Birch saplings on the grassed bank by the steps to the Brighton Road. A fourth has since been added. The saplings were watered and cared for throughout the dry weather this summer and, as a result, are doing well. This Autumn a small area of grass was cleared from the foot of the saplings and marked out with flints to prevent damage from mowing. The saplings were obtained from the Woodland Trust.

At the front of the station an additional raised bed, created by the construction workers and filled with plants rescued before work began, has taken well. This was weeded and pruned back this autumn. The heavily shaded bed beneath the notice board has also been tidied.

The construction work left a large open grassed area by the cycle racks. GTR have asked the team if they would like to think of how this area could be refurbished. A preliminary dig around with a fork revealed that the soil is very shallow with a layer of hard-core beneath which means planting could be difficult. As result we will need to build up the soil depth and initial thoughts are to create a centre circular bed with logs. The London Wildlife Trust, who are currently organising a ‘Beautiful Butterfly Project’ with local voluntary groups, have agreed to meet with the team to consider if the site is suitable for inclusion in the project and, if so, what help and advice can be offered by them. It is aimed to have the new bed ready for planting for the coming season.

Thanks are due to Jay Ginn, Maureen Levy, Glynis Smith and Pauline Payne, who, despite the difficulties have continued to keep the station tidy and colourful for commuters.

Elizabeth Brooks: Facebook Report

   Postings of local news, photographs, and contacts.
   Facebook: “Friends of Farthing Downs and Happy Valley.”

Friends of Farthing Downs and Happy Valley Facebook group was formed a few years ago for the enjoyment of all who love our local countryside. There are approximately 1900 members (with the numbers rising daily). Not all members live locally. We have a few that either are from other countries or have emigrated from the area to other countries. A number of members live in other areas of the UK too.

The group is popular due to the friendliness of the members, the photos and tales and the way people are willing to help other members with local information. The group does not just encompass Farthing Downs and Happy Valley but also Coulsdon and Kenley Commons and Riddlesdown and other similar sites in the areas.

We have members who, voluntarily, litter pick on their walks. Members often report fly-tipping and inappropriate behaviour, thus helping the Rangers and Happy Valley Wardens to keep the areas nice and our local countryside a beautiful place to visit.

The group and therefore the area have become more popular during lockdown and restrictions. It's been a godsend for those unable to work and children not able to go to school. Many have taken socially distanced walks around the area for exercise. Many have never explored the area as much before and have been delighted to find how special our areas are with the beautiful wildflowers and wildlife. Many members are dog walkers and horse riders.

It's a group that enjoys members from all walks of life. All are welcome to join. Hopefully we will, in the not too distant future, all be able to freely enjoy the area again with our families and friends. We look forward to that day.