Conservation students propose plans to protect environment at residential development as part of wider sustainability project for FirstPort

Residential property management company FirstPort is putting environmental sustainability at the top of its agenda – with community partnerships at the heart of its biodiversity plans.   

As part of its sustainability work, a group of conservation students from Surrey have teamed up with FirstPort to create an ecological plan to conserve and improve the ponds, grassland, and woodlands at their local retirement development. 

The work with the college is just one example of how Christian Phipps, Sustainability Manager at FirstPort, is working to show that environmental impact is being measured and improved. 


He explained: “Biodiversity is a key focus within our environmental sustainability agenda. While the Environment Act may have created a mandatory 10% biodiversity net gain for new developments, we see no reason why it shouldn’t also be improved on existing sites. 

“That’s why we are working with our local communities to improve the environments we live in.”

Students from Merrist Wood College – part of the Activate Learning group – were invited earlier in the year to get some hands-on work experience at Wispers Park retirement village in Haslemere.

The independent-living retirement development sits within 25 acres of woodland in the middle of the Surrey countryside, making it the perfect project for students to put their learning into practice and assess key areas for conservation. 

The report highlighted the vast wildlife in the area, from dormice to palmate newts and frogs. Students found evidence of a probable medieval wood bank and suggested key areas for improvement, such as creating an additional pond to increase the amphibian population. 

Christian added: “The students from Merrist Wood College have done a brilliant job of identifying how we can take some of the fantastic environment at Wispers Court and look at ways of managing it for future generations. 

“One of the most important parts of that is getting resident buy in. So, involving everyone that lives here already and making sure that they are part of the journey as well because it is, after all, their home and I know that they are all very interested in their local habitat and the environment in which they live.”

Two of the students returned to the site in August and presented their findings to residents. The residents were then able to walk through the woodlands and learn about different ways they can help to protect and preserve the beauty spot. 

Student Holly Davey suggested that residents start a community group focussed on preserving wildlife at the country park. She said: “Ask the experts and invite them here, they could be bat groups, the dormouse groups, The Mammal Society, and maybe The Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust. 

“They’ll be able to show residents, in more depth, what they have on their doorstep. When you know what’s there, you can be compassionate about it and then want to steer it as well.”

Mark Stevenson, Lecturer at Merrist Wood College, added:  We are so grateful to FirstPort; Wispers Park gave the students an opportunity to apply their knowledge gained at Merrist Wood and secure first-hand experience of what it is like to work in the ecological and conservation sector. 

“This was a great way for students to get a taste of what it is like to work in consultancy, public body or charity that manages land for conservation. 

“The surveys produced some interesting results which show that the site is of significant value and the owners of the estate are keen to put the student’s recommendations into practice. We thank Wispers Park for the opportunity to provide such valuable work experience for our students.”

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