Local partnership secures multi-million-pound National Lottery Heritage Fund grant for the eastern South Downs and surrounding towns

Monday 18th October 2021

  • 10-strong Changing Chalk partnership, led by the National Trust, includes Buglife and other charities and organisations from across Brighton & Hove, Eastbourne and Lewes
  • 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 to those in need
  • New jobs, apprenticeships, training and volunteering opportunities will be created

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, 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.

The National Lottery Heritage Fund grant will be supplemented by partners through funding, fundraising, volunteer time and in-kind support. A series of new jobs, apprenticeships and training opportunities will be created across Brighton & Hove, Eastbourne & Lewes.

Around 2,500 volunteers will have the chance to learn new skills and support the partnership’s vision.

 Europe’s ‘tropical rainforest’ under threat

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 UK4.

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.

Richard Henderson, National Trust chair of the partnership says: “We’re delighted to have received this support thanks to National Lottery players. The need to connect nature, people and heritage has never felt more important or relevant, and the commitment from our partners to achieve this is truly wonderful. The project has an amazing cross-section of activities that will protect and restore the South Downs landscape for people to enjoy, for health and wellbeing, for nature’s recovery and climate resilience into the future.”

Stuart McLeod, Director London & South at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said:

“We are delighted to support the ‘Changing Chalk’ partnership and help them to restore the vital chalk grassland habitat of the South Downs. Investing in projects that support nature is a key priority for us and now, thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, a wider range of people will be able to enjoy this area so rich in biodiversity, while benefitting from both a mental health and wellbeing perspective”

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.

At the heart of the partnership, two new Chalk Life Rangers and an Education Ranger will lead community activities to support the care and restoration of the chalk grassland. NEETS programmes, apprenticeships and volunteering will promote skills development and give more young people an opportunity to discover the Downs on their doorstep.

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 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.

Alice Parfitt, Conservation Officer at Buglife, adds ‘‘The Changing Chalk project area is home to many rare and threatened invertebrates and Buglife is looking forward to working with landowners, farmers and communities to improve the chalk landscape for them. This National Lottery Heritage Fund grant will enable us to bring back wildflowers in B-Lines across the South Downs to help our struggling pollinators, explore how vineyards can do their bit to help bugs, and support on the ground action to secure the future for the striking Wart-biter bush-cricket.”

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.

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.

Changing Chalk will kick off in early 2022.