SEPD project restores natural beauty
Over 3km of overhead power lines, pylons and wooden electricity poles will be removed from Thursley Common as part of a major £400,000 project by Southern Electric Power Distribution (SEPD) to restore views over the Surrey nature reserve.
Under the watching brief of Natural England, engineers have started work to bury replacement power cables carefully under the reserve. The site, which also includes part of Ockley Common, was identified by the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) team as a priority for power line removal to restore the traditional heathland landscape. Eleven pylons dating back to the 1960s, which carry a 33,000 volt overhead power line will be dismantled, along with 22 wooden poles carrying a 11,000 volt line. Both lines will be replaced by new underground circuits.
Engineers have started work on the first phase of the project to prepare trenches for the new underground cables. To minimise impact on the landscape, this is taking place alongside existing footpaths on the southern side of the common. In other parts of the reserve, a 'mole plough' will also be used to lay cable. This specialised piece of equipment causes minimal environmental disruption, but can bury cable at nine times the speed of conventional trenching.
Once this initial work is finished, the new underground cables will be powered up and the old overhead lines, pylons and wooden poles can then be taken down in the reserve. This second part of the project is due to be completed during the autumn, weather and ground conditions allowing.
Project manager Greg Moore from SEPD said: "This is a beautiful part of Surrey, enjoyed by lots of locals and visitors, and so we will be making sure access across the common is maintained throughout the project. We've carried out a detailed planning exercise prior to the work starting, as we'll be working in a sensitive landscape that has a whole range of dry and boggy terrains, and we'll be doing everything we can to return the area back to its original, natural glory as quickly as possible."
Thursley National Nature Reserve boasts extensive areas of open dry heathland, peat bogs, ponds, pine and deciduous woodlands and is home to a thriving and varied amount of wildlife and flora. Dartford warblers, stonechats, silver studded blue butterflies and marsh orchids are common sights in the area, which is popular with walkers, cyclists and horse riders.
Landowners Natural England and the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) - the Ministry of Defence's property and services provider - have been working closely with SEPD on the project. The work is being funded by a special allowance, granted to SEPD by industry regulator Ofgem, to invest in projects to underground power lines in AONBs and National Parks in central southern England.
James Giles, Natural England's Reserve Manager, said: "This important partnership project is a great opportunity to enhance the natural beauty of Thursley National Nature Reserve. We've worked closely with the contractors to ensure that the operations avoid areas used by rare nesting birds, such as woodlark and Dartford warblers, and every step is being taken to protect the Reserve's varied habitats. The pylons will be removed during the autumn when the terrain is drier and the nesting season is over. The end result will be a much improved and revitalised landscape, adding to the wilderness feel of this already incredible and special site."