Long-term volunteering on Headley Heath

Federico, Long Term volunteer at Headley Heath

My name is Federico Ghittoni and I've been the long-term volunteer Ranger on Headley Heath for the past 12 months and I'd like to share with you some of my experiences of working with the Ranger team. After studying at the University of York, I wanted to find a way into nature conservation; I’ve found my time on Headley Heath so enjoyable and it’s opened up a new career route for me. Here’s my story so far…

Settling in to life on the Surrey Hills

It seems like it was just yesterday that I joined the team, arriving from Spain and starting my new life in the Surrey Hills. I was instantly struck by the area’s beautiful countryside and quickly settled in well with the Headley Ranger team as well as the fantastic volunteer groups.

Looking after Headley Heath

Every day is different; twice a week we go out with our volunteer teams to do practical work, but even then the tasks constantly change as we have to adapt to the needs of the site in terms of wildlife conservation. We manage four different habitats - chalk grassland, heathland, ponds and ancient woodland. Prioritising our practical work is key in order to manage each site’s different ecosystems efficiently. 

What we do

We spend most of our practical working hours with volunteers cutting and treating saplings with herbicide or pulling up bramble and bracken by hand on Headley's chalk grassland.

I thoroughly enjoy working on our chalk grassland areas and managing invasive species. The scent of the abundant fragrant wild thyme is fantastic and I love to spot some of the beautiful orchids which attract the vivid grassland butterflies.

Summer on Headley Heath

Summer is a key period for ground-nesting birds on Headley Heath. The nightjar and woodlark nest on Purley Plain: their distinctive “churring” song marks their territory and calls for mates. Flowering bell heather brings its carpet of colour to Lark Heath along with the dancing heathland butterflies such as silver copper, small heath and grayling.

Autumn on Headley Heath

Is marked by clear frosty mornings, which give way to a mellow and warm sun throughout the day. This mild autumn weather makes heavy practical work easier and the scrub-burning bonfires keep us warm during a chill. The end of ground-nesting bird season means that we can work on our lowland heathland areas where we mainly manage gorse re-growth. With our volunteers we cut gorse and treat the stumps with herbicide to allow the heather to re-seed and grow back. We also cut gorse on a rotation and allow it to grow back to increase species biodiversity.

A life-changing experience

My time on Headley Heath has been a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet fantastic people in the world of conservation. I work with an amazing team of staff and volunteers who have all helped me build as a person and as a professional. Headley Heath amazes me every time I wander around; the changing seasons, colours and wildlife will never fail to inspire me.