A £2.23m National Lottery Heritage Fund grant will help restore rare habitats and lost landscapes, bring history and local cultures to life and provide new experiences in the outdoors
A multi-million-pound project connecting nature, people and heritage is set to launch across the eastern South Downs and surrounding towns next year. Made possible by money raised by National Lottery players, Changing Chalk is supported by a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant of £2.23 million.
Led by the National Trust and including The Living Coast, charities and organisations from across Brighton & Hove, Eastbourne and Lewes, the 10-strong ‘Changing Chalk’ partnership will work with local communities, farmers and landowners. Its aim is to restore and protect the internationally rare chalk grassland, bring diverse histories to life and provide new experiences in the outdoors to those who need it most.
New jobs, apprenticeships, training and volunteering opportunities will be created. Over the life of the project it is anticipated around 2,500 volunteers will have the chance to learn new skills and support the partnership’s vision.
The chalk grassland habitat of the South Downs – so rich in biodiversity it’s sometimes referred to as Europe’s tropical rainforest – is in rapid decline with approximately 80% lost since WWII. Meanwhile the densely populated urban fringes of the eastern South Downs include some of the most economically-deprived wards in the UK.
Changing Chalk will tackle these issues over the next four years, by bringing the eastern Downs and towns closer together. Eighteen ambitious projects will break down complex barriers to participation in the outdoors, restore and protect nature and wildlife, improve wellbeing and celebrate the heritage that have shaped the South Downs.
The eighteen interconnected projects will deliver Changing Chalk’s vision across three areas:
Restoring Chalkland Biodiversity
The chalk grassland of the South Downs is home to iconic wildlife, including rare orchids, wildflowers and butterflies. Its drastic loss – caused in part by intensive farming and the loss of traditional ways of looking after the landscape – has left sites small and isolated, threatening the wildlife that depends on it.
Over the four years partners will support the management of more than 800ha of land for nature, including 60ha of golf course returned to species-rich chalk downland in the Wilding Waterhall project, and 40 sites returned to active grazing. 5 new dew ponds, meadows and enhanced habitat for pollinators will also be established. National Nature Reserves and Local Wildlife Sites will be improved and vital habitat research funded.
Farmers and land managers will be supported in sustainable management of chalk grassland, to improve its ecological resilience to the effects of climate change by re-connecting fragmented areas of this rare and important habitat.
Connecting Downs and Towns
Today’s world has new challenges for urban communities – heightened by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Changing Chalk area has some of the most economically deprived wards in the UK, with high unemployment and physical and mental health needs.
The partnership will improve well-being through connection with the local landscape. Eco-therapy activities will benefit local people with physical and mental health needs, and new accessible maps co-created with local charities will help underserved and less physically able communities to access green space. Meanwhile the Downs will come to the towns with new chalk grassland planting on twelve city sites as part of The Living Coast’s Greening the Cities project.
In addition, a Community Grants Scheme will award £150,000 to local communities for community-led initiatives supporting Changing Chalk’s vision.
Hearts and Histories of the Downs
The South Downs is defined by historical features and a rich cultural history which has helped shape the landscape. However more than one in 10 (12%)5 heritage sites urgently need more care to survive. Meanwhile many cultural traditions have been lost or marginalised.
There will be community excavation projects in Eastbourne, the chance to ‘adopt’ local monuments and annual celebrations for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month. There will also be creative writing, storytelling and other arts and cultural activity to engage writers and audiences of Black, Asian and ethnically diverse people.