The Changing Chalk partnership

View through the Devils Dyke valley towards Saddlescombe Farm

A partnership of 10 organisations has received initial National Lottery support for the Changing Chalk project. Made possible by National Lottery players, the partnership will work with local communities and landowners to connect people with nature and address challenges facing the Sussex Downs to protect this fragile chalk grassland landscape for future generations.

Development funding of £138,300 has been awarded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund  to help the Changing Chalk partnership progress their plans to apply for a full National Lottery grant of £2,234,600 in 2021.

Changing Chalk is focused on the chalk grassland landscape of the Sussex Downs and the communities of the coastal urban fringe of Brighton and Hove, Eastbourne and Lewes.

This distinctive landscape has 746,000 people living within the perimeter, it is one of the most densely populated coastal areas in Northern Europe bordering the fragile chalk grassland.

The majority of the 392sq/km2 project area falls within the South Downs National Park, which was designated for the nation in 2009. Chalk grassland and its abundance of wildlife, including an array of rare butterflies, were a key part of the designation.

A misty morning view of Saddlescombe Farm from Newtimber Hill
A misty morning view of the Saddlescombe Farm buildings from Newtimber Hill, with rolling downland beyond to the horizon.
A misty morning view of Saddlescombe Farm from Newtimber Hill

A landscape-scale partnership

The landscape and communities are facing multiple threats. On the Downs, the internationally significant chalk grassland is facing rapid decline with only 4% of original habitat remaining. At the same time, there is increasing public recognition of the importance of nature and place as a determinant of individuals’ health and well-being.

This ambitious project will bring together people and nature, over a five year period, to tackle these threats, grasp the opportunities and celebrate the heritage that the area offers.

The vision is to reverse the decline in chalk grassland and establish a long-term collaborative management plan, which is sustainable because of the benefits it will provide for people. 

Commenting on the award, Jane Cecil, General Manager for the National Trust’s South Downs Portfolio said:

'We’re delighted to have received this support thanks to National Lottery players. The challenges facing beautiful natural and historic places can only be addressed by working together. 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.

“Beautiful natural and historic places matter. Our role is to care for them and ensure they look and feel amazing forever, so that they provide the most benefit to the most people.'

A view of Devil's Dyke
A view of Devil's Dyke
A view of Devil's Dyke

Next steps

The partnership will use the development funding to apply for a full National Lottery grant in 2021. If successful the project aims to empower communities, share and celebrate how people over generations have shaped the South Downs and inspire people to get involved and connect with their local landscape.

This would include a Big Dig archaeological project, starting in Eastbourne, which would enable communities to explore and record local history of their Downland settlements.

The creation of urban green spaces, an access for all footpath from Brighton to Devils Dyke and new accessible volunteering and participation opportunities would help grow love for the Sussex downs and contribute to improved health and well-being.

Conservation and species reintroduction work would involve local groups in protecting some of the Eastern Downs rarest species. This funding would also enable the building of further relationships with community organisations to engage a wider range of people who might not usually consider the South Downs as relevant to them. 

Carole Mortimer, Natural England’s Lead Advisor on the Changing Chalk bid said;

'I’m delighted to hear that this partnership is progressing. The project is a perfect fit with our ambition to make the natural world richer in wildlife and more accessible to people from all walks of life and it is particularly exciting that two of our National Nature Reserves will be integral to this work.'

About the Changing Chalk partnership

Through a two-year period of consultation, discussion and collaboration led by the National Trust, a common cause has been identified with others who care for the Sussex Downs landscape and a partnership has been formed to champion the landscape. The partnership has brought conservation organisations together with farmers, research institutions, community organisations and local authorities and provides a real opportunity to tackle the issues under five project objectives.

The partnership comprises:

  • Brighton & Hove City Council
  • Brighton & Hove Food Partnership
  • Buglife
  • Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
  • Lewis District and Eastbourne Borough Council (inc. Heritage Eastbourne, Eastbourne Museum Service)
  • Natural England
  • National Trust
  • South Downs National Park Authority
  • Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre
  • Sussex Wildlife Trust

The partnership will work closely with community organisations to co-create and deliver project activities; these include Stay Up Late, Gig Buddies, the Green Wellbeing Alliance, Trust for Developing Communities, Friends Families and Travellers, Action in Rural Sussex and Forest Bathing.