Many of the training areas contain archaeological sites some as ancient as the Iron Age. These include bowl barrows and a variety of other tumuli.
More recently, Second World War pillboxes and bunkers scattered round the Estate have also survived because of their location, and are now in the process of being listed. Few visitors will know of the Atlantic Wall built in the heart of Surrey. This wall, complete with the evidence of the breaching methods, still stands erect on the slopes of Hankley Common. Built during the Second World War, it was used to train D-Day troops in the art of attacking Hitler’s fortifications. Visitors may think and reflect on how many lives were saved because of the thoroughness of the Armed Forces’ training and in doing so realise why training areas are required.
Due to the protection from modern development, indigenous fauna and flora have often survived far better in the Training Estate than on other sites. Indeed, many forms of life on the edge of extinction live quite happily on military land where they have learned to co-exist with the rifle fire and pyrotechnics, which hold few fears for the wildlife that resides on ranges. For example, the steep sides of one firing range contain a colony of sand martins.
Because of this, much of the estate has Site of Special Scientfic (SSSI) status and in some cases such as Ceasar’s Camp this is a Special Protection Area (SPA) and has European recognition as an important lowland heath for ground nesting birds. The Thames Basin Heaths project involves the MoD, Natural England and the councils in managing this heathland to ensure it continues to exist and support wildlife. The Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) publish an annual Sanctuary magazine to promote awareness of their conservation work ( http://www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/MicroSite/DIO/OurPublications/EstateAndSustainableDevelopment/Sanctuary.htm)
Due to this double protection, rare plants are able to prosper in their unspoilt environment because of the sanctuary afforded. The military do not intentionally destroy natural habitat or harm any form of wildlife; visitors are requested to show the same respect. Fire is a particular hazard in the Home Counties and every precaution should be taken to ensure large areas of valuable natural habitat are not destroyed.
What You Might See
Butterflies, and Moths and other Insects
Among the species of butterfly to be found are grayling, green hairstreak, silver studded blue, dingy skipper, small heath and small copper. The list of coleoptera (beetles), diptera (flies) and hemiptera-heteroptera (bugs) is apparently endless and people who study these creatures will not be disappointed during their walks through the training areas.
Reptiles and Amphibians
The defence training estate in the home counties (DTE HC) includes one of the few areas to hold within its boundary representatives of all 6 species of indigenous reptiles – namely 3 snakes and 3 lizards. The 2 species of toad, the common frog and all three species of newt are also to be found making it very rich in reptile and amphibian life.
No fewer than 175 species have made their home in the area including Dartford Warbler, Linnet and Nightjar. Annual bird counts, initiated by the MoD and carried out by local enthusiasts, enable the populations to be monitored. The results of the information gathered enable the MoD to undertake conservation projects for the protection and enhancement of many locally and nationally important bird species. These ground nesting birds are especially susceptible to disturbance by human activity and dogs which can cause them to abandon their nests.
Among the rare species to be found are marsh clubmoss , Bristle Bent, lesser butterfly orchid, black bog rush, bog pimpernel, royal fern, slender cotton grass, carnation sedge, dyer’s greenweed, petty whin, saw-wort, little robin geranium and yellow horned poppy.
Roe deer are to be found within the training areas. These are necessarily managed to ensure that their existence is sustainable in the long term. A few muntjac, ‘invaders’ from Japan, are known to live within the Estate; but being nocturnal these are seldom seen.