As we look back on a busy 2022 - from launching a new landscape scale project, winning funding and welcoming the UNESCO ambassador, there has been so much to celebrate this year across our Living Coast.
2022 started as it meant to go on – with an innovative partnership conservation project aiming to replace some of the rarest habitat of the Biosphere – coastal vegetated shingle. This forms part of the ongoing restoration project at Black Rock, a site just to the West of Brighton marina. Working with experts at Kew Garden’s Milennium Seed Bank, the project team from Brighton & Hove City Council not only translocated vegetated shingle plants from the original Local Wildlife Site in the area but also propogated new plants from cuttings and seeds gathered from local plants – techniques that are often not successful for vegetated shingle habitat that does not thrive on disturbance. A year in and fortunately the new planting is establishing well. However, it will be several years before the planting project can be considered a success as coastal vegetated shingle habitat takes a long time to truly establish.
In the Spring we celebrated World Water Day focussing this year on what everyone can do at home to maximise one of the most precious resources here in The Living Coast – our groundwater stores. We are exceptionally lucky to have an aquifer under our local chalk downland, which is the name given to all the groundwater that has filtered through the Downs and is stored in all the cracks, fissures and gravels of our chalk geology. This aquifer is incredibly special as it provides all the drinking water used in the local area. Learn more about how you can enable more groundwater to be soaked up and stored in the aquifer through the way you garden at home.
On a similar but different watery theme, we were also able to celebrate the installation of new water fountains and bottle filling stations across the city of Brighton & Hove. These new fountains will provide easier access to fresh, free and healthy drinking water for all, aiming to reduce the amount of single use plastic drinks bottles being purchased and discarded in the city, as well as providing a healthier choice than sugary, fizzy drinks and fruit juice.
The Easter weekend also saw us participating in The City Nature Challenge for the 3rd consecutive year, again achieving bigger and better things than we have done before. The aim of this global citizen science biodiversity recording challenge is to encourage as many people as possible to get out and about observing their native flora and fauna and documenting what they find via the iNaturalist app. This year we had an incredible 33% increase in people taking part, which put us at an overall 4th on the UK leaderboard, as well our local participants observing the most amount of species in a weekend of the whole of the UK. Locally we recorded over 1,300 species which is a fantastic achievement and shows the amazing diversity of life we have right on our doorsteps.
Spring also saw the start of the Changing Chalk project, a huge partnership project that aims to create a sustainable future for the Downs. Stretching from Southwick to Eastbourne Changing Chalk brings together 18 interconnected projects tackling different challenges on and around the Downs, from conservation to engagement and archaeolgy. Locally, The Living Coast is particularly involved with delivering the projects Greening the Cities – which aims to bring Downland species in to the urban environments of the Biosphere – and Wilding Waterhall – a flagship biodiversity and heritage chalk downland restoration project on the site of a former Council golf course.
The start of Changing Chalk also saw us welcome our new Education Ranger Jess Mead. Jess brings a fantastic wealth of experience as well as much needed capacity to the team and is leading on all the engagement activities for Wilding Waterhall alongside delivering Greening the Cities.
We also launched the 2nd year of our Living Coast Artist Residency programme in partnership with Fabrica and ONCA galleries. The Residencies provide a paid opportunity for artists and makers living within the Biosphere region to develop their creative practise around a particular theme. This year our theme was to explore the connection between immersion in the natural world and physical and mental wellbeing. We were lucky enough to be able to support 2 artists: Rachel Henson who’s practise is based on exploratory walking and how this gives rise to altered states of attention and perception; and Andrés Saenz de Sicilia a sound artist, performer and researcher, who used specialist audio technology to listen in to and record some of the most unique elements of our Biosphere.
Summer also marked the first year of the Wilder Verges project which aims to support urban nature recovery by exploring the impacts of changing mowing regimes on key grass verge sites across the city of Brighton & Hove. Despite the very challenging conditions of the summer drought, the majority of the pilot verges showed an increase in species diversity including key species associated with chalk downland habitat, after only one year of changed management.
In the midst of the summer heat we were also thrilled to welcome the UK’s permanent ambassador to UNESCO, Laura Davies, and a team from the Government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, to visit our Biosphere. The group were able to see first hand some of the amazing sustainable business initiatives that are undertaken in the region as well experiencing our fantastic natural environment, and having the opportunity to meet and learn more about some of the people and organisations that make up The Living Coast Biosphere Partnership, who underpin our incredible UNESCO designation.
As we moved in to Autumn The Living Coast was honoured to be chosen to receive funding via a new collaboration between UNESCO’s Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe and the abrdn Foundation. We put forward an innovative research project in collaboration with the Aquifer Partnership and the University of Brighton to their new programme ‘Promoting Sustainable Development Through UNESCO’s Programmes and Sites‘. The research project will be monitoring the impact of the new Wild Park Rainscape that is being developed in the North East of Brighton, and aims to reduce pollution infiltration to our regional aquifer that is caused by major local roads such as the A27.
The Autumn also brought more funding success for the region with the announcement that the Ouse Valley Climate Action group had been successful in their bid for major National Lottery funding. This £2 million funding award will support a wide variety of initiatives across the Ouse Valley to address the climate and biodiversity emergencies locally. The partnership, which includes the South Downs National Park Authority and Trust and Lewes District Council have already been able to support projects focussing on 3 key areas: nature recovery and climate resilience; people’s knowledge and skills; and, finally, greener energy and travel.
November 3rd also marked a very special day in our Living Coast calendar as well as for Biospheres around the world as it was the first ever International Day for Biosphere Reserves. We celebrated in style with the help of local partners by sharing our experiences from people living and working across The Living Coast with our fellow Biospheres around the UK and beyond.
As the year draws to a close we also want to take the opportunity to say a huge thank you to Brighton & Hove Wildlife Forum who have been sharing with us their fantastic knowledge of our local wildlife throughout the seasons. From Autumn, and summer, to the amphibians and reptiles of Spring, and the treats of the first months of the year, the Wildlife Forum have helped showcase the richness of the amazing natural environment of our Living Coast.
Wishing everyone all the best for a wonderful winter holiday season, and happy and healthy 2023!