Ambitious vision for future is unveiled by South Downs National Park

Tackling climate change, supporting the rural economy and a health and wellbeing service are among the priorities of an ambitious five-year plan launched by the South Downs National Park Authority.

Monday, 27th April 2020, 11:12 am

The plan, launched on Friday (April 24) focuses on bringing together environmental organisations, land managers, farmers, community organisations, businesses and volunteers to make the South Downs National Park an even better home for people and nature.

As part of a revamped website, ten ‘outcomes’ will be brought alive through the Your National Park campaign, which features a champion or hero who is helping to deliver on each of the goals.

Margaret Paren, chairman of the South Downs National Park Authority, said: “This ambitious plan is a shared endeavour among all those who love and care for this very special national park to positively shape and secure its future.

Ditchling Beacon at sunrise. Picture by Sam Moore

“It also fully supports the Government’s objectives in support of the environment and responds to the challenges ahead for national parks, not least those related to climate change and ensuring nature and our communities flourish.

“We have to recognise that the unprecedented and challenging Covid-19 crisis demands an adaptable approach that nevertheless remains focused on our longer-term ambitions for the environment and our local communities.”

The new plan focuses on ten outcomes – all of which can be viewed here.

They include ‘Increasing Resilience’, covering improved soil and water quality through innovations such as winter crops, protecting drinking water supplies and improving the quantity and quality of trees in the national park.

Grazing sheep on chalk grassland. Picture by Alex Bamford

The ‘Arts and Heritage’ outcome will see the authority increase investment in the protection of cultural heritage through financial contributions from developers.

The park will champion ‘Outstanding Experiences’ by building on its South Downs Learning Network, designing study programmes with headteachers, deliver teacher training and INSET day sessions with school staff, as well as working with universities to upskill trainee teachers.

The authority also aims to increase volunteering, affordable housing stock and the level of business support it offers – the latter by ensuring a good supply of employment space and improving digital infrastructure by providing full-fibre broadband between Chichester and Horsham districts in partnership with West Sussex County Council.

Working with health bodies to encourage social prescribing – referring people to a range of non-clinical services – is key to the ‘Health and Wellbeing’ part of the plan, which will build a ‘better appreciation of the South Downs as a place for healthy outdoor activity and relaxation’.

Paul Gorringe, one of the South Downs National Park's 'heroes' promoting its new ambitious ten-point plan

The new partnership management plan builds on the foundations of the park’s first iteration, which covered 2014 to 2019.

Dozens of organisations have committed to helping to deliver the park’s objectives.

Andrew Lee, director of countryside policy and management at the South Downs National Park Authority, said: “With such a large population in and around the South Downs National Park, there’s a wealth of resources to draw upon and everyone can play their part, no matter how big or small.

“This wide-reaching plan is that launchpad to increase ambition, deepen the partnerships, respond to the challenges set out in last year’s Protected Landscape Review and deliver more for nature and people.

“Now, more than ever, this important landscape is needed by both nature and people and, together, we are ready for the challenge.”

How sheep and volunteers are helping to maintain South Downs’ landscape

As Paul Gorringe gazes out at the beautiful flower-studded chalk grassland, he knows he has found his own little piece of heaven.

Paul sees it as an honour and privilege to be a custodian of the landscape in and around the South Downs National Park, helping to continue a millennia-old tradition that has helped to create one of the rarest habitats on planet Earth.

The ranger for Brighton & Hove City Council is the park’s nominated ‘hero’ for helping to deliver on ‘outcome one’ of its new five-year plan: Landscape and Natural Beauty.

Paul oversees a sheep grazing project that sees dozens of volunteer shepherds – or lookerers – help to maintain the landscape through conservation grazing.

Sheep are at the heart of the story of the creation of the South Downs landscape since the arrival of the first farmers from Europe some 4,500 years ago.

Stone Age farmers cleared the natural forest using flint-bladed tools, providing timber and grazing land for their animals.

Paul, a dad-of-two from Portslade, features in a new inspiring video that explains his love of this special landscape and how sheep, and people, are vital for its survival.

“The wildlife of this area is extremely rich,” says Paul.

“Chalk downland is known as a rainforest in miniature and it really is a case of getting down on your knees and discovering this huge biomass of plants and insects.

“When the sheep industry died off, getting on for 100 years or so now, we started to lose our Downs. So what we decided to do was bring back the animals that helped open up the Downs in the first place, thousands of years ago.

“We developed a volunteer programme called the ‘Lookering’ or grazing project and it basically means we have volunteer shepherds. Their role is to come and have a look at the sheep, get the sheep up and moving, check the fences and check the water supply is working.”

Paul is passionate about community engagement and raising awareness of the wonders of this habitat, which makes up four per cent of the National Park.

Last year more than 1,700 people came to the National Park’s Wild Chalk event at East Brighton Park which Paul helped to organise. As part of the day he brought his sheep down so people could learn more.

See Paul’s video – part of a new series of short films to mark the park’s tenth anniversary – above.

The Your National Park clips feature dedicated local ‘heroes’ of the park, including foresters, farmers, historians and local people.

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