The word “pleasant” was invented for places like Puttenham in Surrey.
The stockbroker-belt village near Guildford nestles on the slopes of a dramatic elongated ridge called the Hog’s Back. With a village store, school and cosy pub it offers wealthy commuters an idealised slice of rural life. However, if you look closely at the slopes above the village, heads bobbing behind hedges give an indication of the darker side of this bastion of Middle England.
Puttenham is overlooked by the second-most popular dogging site in Europe. People who participate in consensual outdoor sexual activity – “doggers” – and gay men cruising for partners are drawn to the area which has been classified as a Public Sex Environment, or PSE. This would all be fine, except for a jarring proximity to the village school. While no children have yet to witness the sight of two humans mating, community concern is understandable. Although many older Puttenham residents accept the activity, which has been rife for 20 years, an influx of young families over the past decade has changed the demographic and these relative newcomers refuse to stand for overt hanky-panky in their backyards.
They are waging a campaign of reclamation in the rolling hills above their homes which involves sending regular walking parties into the lion’s den to deter over-sexed couples, and hacking back shrubbery to reduce the cover it affords. The campaign was started by long-suffering resident and mother, Jules Perkins. “We have people here who have witnessed men having sex from their kitchen windows while they give their children tea,” she sighs. “We want our children to have the freedom of the beautiful countryside. The view from the top of the village is stunning but there is no way anyone in the village will let their children go up there until the dogging is totally eradicated. “We are not a bunch of Nimbys; our argument is that thanks to dogging websites, it will only get worse.”
The site is indeed well-advertised. Swingingheaven.com even warns people of an increased police presence spurred on by the village campaign. Earlier this year, activists pressured Surrey County Council to close the lay-by used by the thrill-seekers on the road that runs along the spine of the Hog’s Back and a coach-load of them went to County Hall to force their case. In the event, councillors chose to keep the area open and implement measures to deter the activity instead. One suggestion was to release bulls on the site to deter doggers and another was for the school to plant Leylandii trees around the playground to create a visual barrier.
Surrey police have been supportive of the residents, although, embarrassingly, last year spent £124.93 on tea, coffee and biscuits for outdoor sex devotees to help build trust and encourage homosexuals to report hate crimes. Now residents are due to receive training from officers to inform them of their rights if they witness sexual activity. Local MP Anne Milton has also offered her support after witnessing two men engaged in sexual activity while she was on a fact-finding mission.