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 the National Lottery Heritage Fund, 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 458sqkm 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, the partnership is working along the densely populated neighbouring urban coastline. Three quarters of a million people live here in multi-cultural towns like bustling Brighton & Hove, pretty Lewes and historic Eastbourne.

Shared heritage under threat 

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

  • 96% of rare chalk grassland lost
  • 12% of heritage sites under threat
  • 55% schools with high number of disadvantaged pupils

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. Many species don't grow anywhere else, including rare orchids and wildflowers.

Like rainforests all over the world, though, the chalk grassland is suffering. Climate change and a decline in traditional ways of looking after the landscape have reduced it to just 4% of its original coverage.

Adonis Blue (male) - Polyommatus bellargus - May to June, August to September – Chalk grassland
Adonis Blue (male) - Polyommatus bellargus
Adonis Blue (male) - Polyommatus bellargus - May to June, August to September – Chalk grassland

The influence of humans is nothing new. 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 multi-cultural urban communities. Over half of Brighton & Hove’s primary schools have a high number of pupils living in socio-economic deprivation. This creates a greater need for nature and open space than ever before.

A more sustainable future  

Changing Chalk is planning a series of 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.  

With the support of an initial £138,300 National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) development grant, partners are preparing a multi-million-pound second round NLHF bid to get Changing Chalk off the ground.


" We’re delighted to have received this support thanks to National Lottery players. Beautiful natural and historic places matter. Our role is to care for them so that they provide the most benefit to the most people."
- Jane Cecil

Creating connections 

If the bid is successful, Changing Chalk partners will invest in seventeen new projects over four years. Though wide-ranging, they will all benefit nature, people and heritage by:

Restoring Chalkland Biodiversity – over 500ha 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 sheep 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. Meanwhile the Downs will come to the Towns with urban planting improving 12 city parks

Connecting Downs and Towns – therapeutic activities and new accessible maps will help underserved local communities access green space. A NEETs programme will support over 100 local people gain vital skills, whilst 2,000 primary pupils will have the chance to experience Farm School. More than 40 volunteer Dog Ambassadors will be recruited to promote responsible behaviour and help protect the landscape

  • 500ha of land newly managed to benefit nature
  • 150 Scheduled Ancient Monuments visited & assessed
  • 2,000 children engaged in farm trips

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 to the Downs of Changing Chalk’s largest ethnic minority. Meanwhile seasonal programmes, micro bursaries and writing workshops will encourage people of colour to respond creatively to their experience and connection with the Downs 


Long-term vision

The long-term vision is to reverse the decline in chalk grassland and establish a collaborative management plan to tackle the threats to the landscape into the future.

In turn, diverse communities will be empowered to enjoy the Downs on their doorstep responsibly, 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

About the Changing Chalk partnership

The partnership consists of 10 core partners:

  1. National Trust
  2. Brighton & Hove City Council
  3. Brighton & Hove Food Partnership
  4. Buglife
  5. Lewis District and Eastbourne Borough Council
  6. Natural England
  7. South Downs National Park Authority
  8. The Living Coast Biosphere
  9. Sussex Wildlife Trust
  10. Railway Land and Wildlife Trust

The partnership is helped by a further 14 supporting partners and links up with seven more community organisations and services.

A volunteer talks to children about pigs and their use in the countryside
A volunteer leans on the stone walls of a pen containing three black and white striped pigs, and talks to children standing on the other side of the pen about pigs and how they are used in the countryside
A volunteer talks to children about pigs and their use in the countryside