People are being invited to discover the amazing heathlands of the South Downs as a new online interactive map and educational welcome boards are launched.
Stretching across a vast 31-mile area from Bordon in the west to Storrington in the east, the colourful online resource has information about the 41 heaths in the region and includes downloadable maps for walkers.
New welcome boards have also been installed at eight heaths to give visitors information and facts on their biodiversity and heritage.
These are Broxhead Common, Kingsley Common, Shortheath Common, Iping and Stedham Common, Wiggonholt Common, Lynchmere Common, Ambersham and Heyshott Common.
It comes as Heathlands Reunited, a National Lottery Heritage funded partnership project, begins a series of free guided walks to help people learn more about heathlands.
Katy Sherman, engagement officer for Heathlands Reunited, said: “We’re really excited to be launching these three initiatives and collectively they make it easier than ever to learn about our heathlands.
“I’m often asked why the South Downs’ heathlands are so precious. The simple answer is they are a habitat rarer than the rainforest and are teeming with wildlife, including all 12 of the UK’s native reptiles, as well as incredibly rare species such as the Nightjar. Just one per cent of the original heathlands in the South Downs remains and that’s why it’s so important we protect these landscapes.”
Over several centuries the heathlands have been separated into ‘islands’ of habitat – making plants and animals far more vulnerable to local extinction. The Heathlands Reunited team has been working over the past three years to ensure greater connectivity between the sites and raise public awareness of their importance.
Katy added: “One of the easiest ways to learn about the heaths is to walk around one.
“So our new guided walks programme will be routes for all abilities and different interests, whether you’re a regular rambler or a countryside beginner.”
To see the online interactive map visit www.southdowns.gov.uk/find-your-local-heath
The walks programme is at www.southdowns.gov.uk/walks-talks