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VIDEO: Conservation students on mission to protect woodlands at Surrey retirement village

A group of conservation students from Surrey have teamed up with property management company FirstPort to create an ecological plan to conserve and improve the ponds, grassland, and ancient woodlands at their local retirement development.


Students from Merrist Wood College were invited to get some hands-on work experience at Wispers Park retirement village in Haslemere.

The independent-living retirement development sits within 25 acres of woodland in the middle of the Surrey countryside, making it the perfect project for students to put their learning into practice and assess key areas for conservation.

It also meant a lot to residents, J. Carter said the work carried out by the students was “very informative” and allowed all residents to learn “a great deal about ecology, which is important”.

The report highlighted the vast wildlife in the area, from dormice to palmate newts and frogs. Students found evidence of a probable medieval wood bank and suggested key areas for improvement, such as creating an additional pond to increase the amphibian population.

Two of the students returned to the site in August and presented their findings to residents. The residents were then able to walk through the woodlands and learn about different ways they can help to protect and preserve the beauty spot.

Christian Phipps, Sustainability Manager at FirstPort, said:

“The students from Merrist Wood College, part of the Activate Learning group, have done a brilliant job of identifying how we can take some of the fantastic environment at Wispers Court and look at ways of managing it for future generations.

“One of the most important parts of that is getting resident buy in. So, involving everyone that lives here already and making sure that they are part of the journey as well because it is, after all, their home and I know that they are all very interested in their local habitat and the environment in which they live.”

Student Holly Davey suggested that residents start a community group focussed on preserving wildlife at the country park. She said:

“Ask the experts and invite them here, they could be bat groups, the dormouse groups, The Mammal Society, and maybe The Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust.

“They’ll be able to show residents, in more depth, what they have on their doorstep. When you know what’s there, you can be compassionate about it and then want to steer it as well.”

Mark Stevenson, Lecturer at Merrist Wood College, added:

We are so grateful to Firstport; Wispers Park gave the students an opportunity to apply their knowledge gained at Merrist Wood and secure first-hand experience of what it is like to work in the ecological and conservation sector.

 “This was a great way for students to get a taste of what it is like to work in consultancy, public body or charity that manages land for conservation.

“The surveys produced some interesting results which show that the site is of significant value and the owners of the estate are keen to put the student’s recommendations into practice. We thank Wispers Park for the opportunity to provide such valuable work experience for our students.”