The Changing Chalk partnership

Way mark sign on Devil's Dyke

Changing Chalk is a partnership connecting nature, people and heritage on and around the South Downs. Led by the National Trust and supported by a £2.23m National Lottery Heritage Fund grant, it will restore lost landscapes and habitats, bring history and local cultures to life and provide new experiences in the outdoors.

The Changing Chalk partnership is focused on a 458 sq km area, at the eastern end of the South Downs. Much of this falls within the South Downs National Park, designated for the nation in 2009 and home to iconic wildlife, rare butterflies and important archaeological sites.

Beyond the park boundaries, and neighbouring the Downs is one of the most densely populated coastal regions of Northern Europe. Three quarters of a million people live here in multi-cultural towns like bustling Brighton & Hove, charming Lewes and historic Eastbourne.

Changing Chalk will bring these rural and urban landscapes together.  We aim to protect and restore the Downs for people to enjoy, for health and wellbeing, and for nature’s recovery.

Shared heritage under threat 

The Sussex Downs and Towns have a rich shared heritage. Now, both are facing unprecedented threats.

  • >80% of rare chalk grassland lost
  • 12% of archaeological sites under threat
  • 55% schools with pupils living in socio-economic deprivation

Part of what makes this area so special is its rare chalk grassland. It supports such a rich and diverse range of plants and insects that it’s sometimes referred to as Europe’s tropical rainforest.  

Up to 40 species of flowering plants can be found in one square metre of chalk grassland, with many species growing nowhere else, including rare orchids and wildflowers.

However, the chalk grassland has suffered badly from loss and fragmentation.  A decline in traditional ways of looking after the landscape mean that it now only makes up 4% of the land in the national park.  Many of the remaining sites are small and isolated and the chalk grassland wildlife is threatened by climate change.

The chalk grassland has its origins 6,000 years ago when people first began clearing the forests to settle and farm. Consequently, the Downs is defined by historical features offering a window into a rich cultural history. Some of these sites are rare and designated for their national importance, yet more than one in 10 (12%) urgently need more care to survive.

Finally, the stresses of today’s world have created new challenges for urban communities. The Changing Chalk area has some of the most economically deprived wards in the UK, with high unemployment and physical and mental ill health. With the Covid-19 pandemic, there is now an even greater need for nature and open space than ever before.

A more sustainable future  

Changing Chalk will deliver eighteen interconnected projects and activities to address these challenges. Together, they will connect nature, people and history and create a more sustainable future for the Downs and Towns.  

The partnership's ambitious plans will be supported by a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant of £2.23 million, made possible by money raised by National Lottery players. 

A series of new jobs, apprenticeships and training opportunities will be created across Brighton & Hove, Eastbourne & Lewes. This includes the chance to learn the skills needed by rangers and archaeological technicians. 

" The themes around connecting nature, people and heritage have never felt more important or relevant. "
- Richard Henderson, Chair of the Project Board, National Trust

The projects can be summarised under three themes: 

Restoring Chalkland Biodiversity – over 800ha of land will be newly managed to benefit nature, including 60ha of golf course returned to species-rich chalk downland and 40 sites returned to active grazing. Five historic dew ponds will be restored, and the long-term future of one of Britain’s most endangered insects - the Wart-biter bush-cricket – will be secured. We will also be researching new more sustainable methods of managing the fragile chalk grassland. 

Connecting Downs and Towns – therapeutic activities and new accessible maps will help underserved local communities access green space, meanwhile the Downs will come to the Towns with new chalk grassland planting on 12 city sites. A Find your Future programme will support young people gain vital skills, whilst 2,250 primary pupils will have the chance to experience Farm School. More than 40 volunteer Dog Ambassadors will raise awareness of why we need grazing on the Downs and encourage dog owners to help us in our mission.

  • 800ha of land newly managed to benefit nature
  • 2,250 children engaged in Farm School trips
  • 150 Scheduled Ancient Monuments condition assessed

Uncovering Hearts & Histories of the Downs – locals in Eastbourne will be invited to join a community excavation project, to discover the archaeological history under their feet. Annual celebrations for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month will uncover the cultural links of this community to the Downs. Meanwhile seasonal programmes, micro bursaries and writing workshops will engage people of colour and the wider public to respond creatively to their experience and connection with the Downs.

Long-term vision

Delivery of the projects will start in earnest from early 2022. The long-term vision is to reverse the decline in chalk grassland and build a sustainable future for the Downs.

In turn, diverse communities will be inspired and empowered to connect with and enjoy the Downs on their doorstep, celebrating the area’s heritage long into the future.

" Working at landscape scale, with a wide range of partners and communities, is our best chance to better understand this ever-changing landscape and find solutions to conserve heritage for future generations. "
- Jane Cecil, General Manager for the National Trust’s South Downs Portfolio

About the Changing Chalk partnership

The partnership consists of 10 core partners:
•    Brighton & Hove City Council
•    Brighton & Hove Food Partnership
•    Buglife
•    Lewes and Eastbourne Councils
•    National Trust (lead partner) 
•    Natural England
•    Railway Land Wildlife Trust 
•    South Downs National Park Authority
•    Sussex Wildlife Trust
•    The Living Coast Biosphere 

In addition, the following delivery partners will provide specialist activity on specific projects:
•    Historic England
•    Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
•    Writing Our Legacy

We are also in conversation with a broad range of supporting organisations, community and stakeholder groups, which form the wider Changing Chalk community.