Calls for new plan to protect site of special scientific interest on Bepton Down

'Neglect' on Bepton Down
'Neglect' on Bepton Down

A Bepton conservationist is calling on Natural England to step in and take control of Bepton Down, a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) which she claims has been neglected for decades.

Beatrice Potter, who lives at Lower House Barns, said she had ridden and walked in the area for 45 years.

“As such and as a keen promoter of conservation and biodiversity I have been dismayed year on year at the lack of care this SSSI has received.”

She said in view of the fact the management plan of Bepton Down had failed to be kept and in view of the fact that the lack of care of the SSSI went back decades it was surely now “imperative Natural England should step in and take this site under its own control.” She added that relying on a bevy of employees of the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) seemed totally ineffective.

Bepton Down became an SSSI 63 years ago said Beatrice, but care had not been consistent and it was now classed as ‘unfavourable - recovering’ by Natural England.

She said the 14 hectares of chalk grassland had declined dramatically over the last few decades. Five of the nine varieties of orchids had disappeared and brambles covered 80 per cent of the site.

“Every year sees a continuous decline in the number of desirable plants present and a consequent inexorable decline in the number of insects reliant on that diversity.”

In 2012 Bepton Down was incorporated into a government funded Environmental Stewardship Scheme administered by Natural England, she said and the owners received funding until 2024 to manage the land.

In addition it was part of the South Downs Nature Improvement Area project for which the SDNPA had funds to carry out restoration plans for five years which end in 2019.

But she claimed the five year plan had only been adhered to ‘in a haphazard sort of way’.

Lack of grazing, cutting and removal of undergrowth had led to ‘another explosion of scrub in 2017’.

One solution said Beatrice, was for The Murray Downland Trust (MDT) to take on the site. She suggested Natural England should step in and help negotiate a lease.

“They have an outstanding record in the field, a wealth of knowledge gained through decades of passionate involvement with chalk grassland.”

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