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Spanning Surrey from east to west, the much-loved, much-used hills of this ‘front line’ AONB are a beleaguered green expanse which, together with the Green Belt, hold back London’s advancing commuter sprawl.
The AONB links together a chain of varied upland landscapes including the North Downs, traditionally the day trip destination for southeast London. Rising near Guildford as the narrow Hog’s Back, the ridge of the downs stretches away to the Kent border, an unmistakable chalk landscape of swelling hills and beech-wooded combes with a steep scarp crest looking south to the Weald. The downs are paralleled to the south by an undulating wooded greensand ridge, rising at Leith Hill to southeast England’s highest point (294m). In the west, sandy open heathland, typified by Frensham Common, stretches away to the Hampshire border.
The AONB’s fine deciduous woodlands have considerable ecological importance as do the AONB’s surviving stretches of chalk grassland and unimproved heath. Including as it does, showpiece villages such as Shere and Abinger, the AONB’s built environment is an intrinsic part of its quality.
Unlike almost all other AONBs, farming, cereals, mixed and horticulture, is a minority occupier of the land. Increasingly, holdings are bought up by non-farmers and worked part-time or used for paddocks. Being within easy reach of London and skirting major centres such as Guildford, Epsom, Sutton and Reigate, the AONB’s economy is inevitably commuter based, with the addition of small-scale craft industry.
The AONB is hugely popular with visitors. It includes within its borders such famous beauty spots as Box Hill and the Devil’s Punch Bowl. Much of the downland crest is owned by conservation bodies including the National Trust and there is a dense, heavily used network of public and recreational footpaths including the Greensand Way and the North Downs Way National Trail which runs from Farnham across the AONB and into Kent.