Valley access at Polesden Lacey

Autumnal trees and green slopes at Polesden Lacey

Recently we've been making some improvements to the routes and fencing on the countryside estate at Polesden Lacey to increase visitor enjoyment, address specific safety issues regarding walkers and cattle in the Ha Ha field and to mitigate the risk of sheep worrying by dogs. We have consulted extensively with visitors, our tenant farmer and the local community about these improvements.

We had feedback from some visitors and neighbours that they wanted a walk where they would not come into contact with cattle. Also, within the last eighteen months, there have been increased incidents of sheep worrying by dogs. In response to this we are working to create a livestock-free walking route around the countryside estate. As part of this, we directed walkers to use the public bridleway next to the Ha Ha field rather than the field itself.

We have listened to recent feedback and have now made arrangements so that walkers can continue to walk across the Ha Ha field between May and August when the field is not being grazed. This is the time when walkers have used the field the most. We are also increasing the number of benches at the top of the field so that people can rest and enjoy the view.

Polesden Lacey is a 1,400 acre countryside estate, with 26 miles of rights of way and permissive paths. It is a working farm and has been for several hundred years. For conservation reasons it is important that the Ha Ha field is grazed, in order to protect wildlife on this rare chalk downland habitat, as advised by Natural England. 

" By creating a better, safer route around the Polesden Lacey estate, we’re aiming to do our best for walkers, nature conservation, sustainable farming and animal welfare."
- Alex Wigley, Garden and Outdoors Manager

We’d like to thank everyone who has engaged in the consultation for the project. We invited feedback with signage in February and September 2021, via our project email address, explaining the proposals. We spoke with dog walkers and our Ranger team and volunteers walked the route - and spoke to visitors and those reading the signage in the valley - to explain the reasoning behind this.

Since the pandemic, many more of us have been enjoying nature and the outdoors. We fully understand the need for people to get outside and enjoy the fresh air and we are pleased to be able to welcome walkers to our outdoor places. But when lots of us do this it can have a huge impact on local communities, environments and our tenant farmers. 

What does the work involve? 

Following feedback from our range of stakeholders, we’re making it possible for walkers to go on a circular walk through Polesden valley without having to enter fields with livestock. 

  • When the Ha Ha field is being grazed, between September and April, we are asking walkers to use Bridleway 67, next to the field. We have listened to recent feedback and made arrangements so that walkers can continue to walk across the Ha Ha field between May and August when the field is not being grazed.
  • We understand that the view from the top of Ha Ha field is particularly special and greatly loved. We have moved the fence line back, at the top of the hill, and added new benches so that it can continue to be a place to rest and appreciate the beauty of the landscape.
  • We’re improving access across our own permissive path network. While working with Surrey County Council on the improved maintenance of statutory rights of way. 
  • Thanks to the support of our tenant farmer, there is access to 380 acres of farmland via permissive paths. A further 240 acres of farmland is accessible via public rights of way. Our remaining estate is woodland and common land, with open access all year round. 
  • 5 fields are being retained for our tenant farmer’s livestock, without public access, including the Ha Ha field and Tanners field for the first time. This allows our farmer to give cattle quiet space for calving, when they have calves at foot and during busy times, such as the school holidays. Having an additional area which is closed improves the safety of the whole estate, by allowing our farmer to choose the most suitable location for his livestock.
Autumn colour at Polesden Lacey
Autumn colour at Polesden Lacey
Autumn colour at Polesden Lacey

Why is the change necessary now? 

Sadly we’ve seen a significant increase in livestock worrying on the Polesden Lacey estate. We have had 10 incidents of sheep worrying in the last eighteen months, several of which resulted in sheep or lambs being killed. It is likely that there have been more incidents as they are rarely reported to us or our tenant farmer, until an injured animal is discovered. 

  • We’re aware there are many responsible dog owners that enjoy our places and we want to thank them, but unfortunately some do not adhere to signage or instructions despite best efforts. 
  • We have been working with the National Farmer’s Union (NFU) and the Rural Crimes Officer at Surrey Police to raise awareness of the issue. In Summer 2021 we hosted an event attended by the police, NFU and our local MP.  
  • We ask all of our visitors to follow the countryside code and to keep their dogs on leads around livestock. We are working to raise awareness of the issues that dogs can pose to livestock in the countryside and are keen to do all we can to help our tenant farmers protect their livestock, particularly when animals are at their most vulnerable.  
  • The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) regularly investigates incidents involving cattle and members of the public in England and Wales. Some of these result in death or serious injuries. Almost all of these incidents are in fields and enclosed areas. The two most common factors in these incidents are cows with calves and walkers with dogs. 
  • As landowners we want to keep people safe by following HSE advice, and it’s important that we change our management plans as risks change. Particularly as more people have been walking in the countryside since the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in more contact with livestock.  
  • There will always be a degree of risk between public and livestock interaction. While it is not possible to negate the risk altogether it is expected wherever possible this risk should be reduced as much as practically possible. Both the livestock owner and land owner share this duty and it is important both parties act together.  
  • HSE provide guidance on best practice to livestock and land owners.
Autumn colour and blue skies looking out over the Surrey Hills from Polesden Lacey
Autumn colour at Polesden Lacey
Autumn colour and blue skies looking out over the Surrey Hills from Polesden Lacey

Improving conservation alongside access 

Polesden Lacey is a working farm and has been for several hundred years. By continuing to have agriculture on the estate we are reflecting our heritage in Surrey, while continuing our responsibilities as a conservation charity.  

Thanks to our tenant farmer’s work over many years, the grazing regime across the estate has been adapted, improving bio-diversity across the estate. We can already see the benefits in terms of increased numbers of wildflowers and butterflies in the summer months. Without the grazing by sheep and cattle the fields would quickly turn to scrub and woodland and dramatically change the landscape. 

How to give feedback

We appreciate these are much loved places. We're glad to receive feedback on our work - and the way we look after the remarkable places entrusted to us. To contact us please email: polesden.estate@nationaltrust.org.uk