AONB Surrey Hills Symposium – ‘Thriving with Nature’

Good evening, everyone. 

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to our beautiful campus, nestled here in Guildford amongst the wonderful Surrey Hills. 

The University is delighted to host the Symposium again. 

Last year we launched the Surrey Climate Change Action Plan which was an opportunity to highlight the University’s commitment to environmental sustainability.

I am proud to say that sustainability is at the heart of our University, not only in teaching and research, but in practice. 

Our recently published annual Sustainable Development Goals Report details our strong commitment to creating a sustainable future – be that through our research, direct engagements with our local community, or on-campus actions such as the borehole that now supplies over 1 million litres of water a day.

Please do download a copy of the report in the sustainability section of our website – the easiest way to find it is to Google ‘University of Surrey SDG report’. 

As part of our commitment to tackling current and emerging global challenges, we set the target of taking the University to Net Zero carbon emissions by 2030.  

Next week we will have the official launch of a pan-university institute, for Sustainability, that brings together expertise from a large number of disciplines from science and engineering, to social and health sciences.   

It aims to develop solutions to the global challenges we face as a society.  

Earlier this year our University Surrey was ranked 55th overall in the Times Higher Education (THE) University Impact Rankings.   

And our Global Centre for Clean Air Research, continues to enhance its local and international reputation and impact as it pursues its global vision of ‘clean air for all’. 

This is just a small footprint, if you like, of how this University is committed to conserving the natural beauty of the landscape and enhancing it for future generations.

The theme of this year’s Symposium is diversity and inclusion, exploring how we can all Thrive with Nature. 

We are proud that the University itself is a wonderfully diverse and inclusive community welcoming staff and students from 136 countries.

Supporting our staff and students’ wellbeing is a core priority here at Surrey, where we offer a range of support services and a campus where it is possible to find a natural haven. 

In a recent interview at Surrey, Nobel Prize winning biologist Venki Ramakrishnan spoke about the importance of decompressing; how often the best ideas come when you are relaxed and away from the laboratory or office. 

Getting out into the natural world is an ideal way to do this – it is a source of inspiration and a place of transfiguration for our mental health and wellbeing.

As someone who loves walking, I am blessed to be surrounded by some of the most wonderful countryside in Surrey. 

There’s certainly no excuse for not doing my 10,000 steps a day when you live in Britain’s leafiest county! 

So, we recognise the importance of how nature can support our learning and creative environment.

And I’m delighted that Greg Melly – Senior Vice-President, Advancement and Community here at the University – has been working with the Surrey Hills Society, Surrey Wildlife Trust and the wonderful social enterprise, Surrey Choices, to manage the University’s ancient woodlands.

Our grounds are home to over 1,600 trees; there are over 320 different species, including 19 different species of Oak.  

Earlier this year HRH the Duke of Kent planted our first Oak around the lake area, not far from our Most notable National Champion tree, a Chinese swamp cypress. 

You’ll also find a number of wildlife projects including Bug Hotels and the Hedgehog Friendly Campus initiative; this provides places for hedgehogs to sleep and encourages food sources such as beetles, snails and worms. 

I’m pleased to say that we are already a ‘silver’ hedgehog friendly campus status and now we are going for gold!

Earlier this month we launched two new Innovation Exploratorium exhibits here on campus to explore our research showing the impacts nature has on us, and we can have on nature. 

They showcase Professor Prashant Kumar’s research on urban heat islands and Dr Tracy Xu’s work in nature and wellbeing.

Everyone is welcome to come and visit these. They are open until April 2023 and more information can be found on our website.

Please also do come and visit the Surrey Hills Arts Habitat project, which we’re proud to be hosting outside our library on campus. 

It is part of our partnership with Surrey Hills Arts, Surrey County Council and other partners to help co-create ecological green spaces in urban areas. 

Our University is a world leader in bringing together researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds to gain an understanding of people-environment relationships. 

One leading academic is Professor Birgitta Gatersleben, who as an Environmental Psychologist is the co-director of a £6.25m ESRC funded project that aims to champion environmental social science to tackle environmental challenges. 

Birgitta also led a project that examined the wellbeing benefit of nature engagement during the pandemic as well as the ‘Birds and Bees’ project that aims to encourage nature engagement among older people through the co-design of conservation activities.

I’m delighted that Birgitta will be chairing the debate about how we all can Thrive with Nature.

But first it gives me great pleasure to hand over to Heather Kerswell, the Independent Chair of the Surrey Hills Board, who will introduce the topic of Introduction – A National Landscape for All.