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Changing Chalk - Connecting Downs and Towns

A view across wildflower planting to Newhaven from Gayles Farm
The view from Gayles Farm | © Natalie Barb

The projects under this theme aim to inspire people from local communities to get out and enjoy the Downs on their doorstep, to enhance wellbeing, and develop an understanding of and care for the iconic chalk grassland landscape.

With engaging and accessible activities and events including a range of eco-therapy programmes and taster sessions, we're encouraging people of all ages to take part in caring for the fragile chalk grassland. Through well-being in nature sessions, we hope to inspire people's connection to the Downs and provide life-changing health benefits.

We're also making it easier for people to take part in caring for their local urban green space and build a connection to nature with projects that will enhance local biodiversity, create green corridors and help both communities and nature to thrive.

Early purple orchid surrounded by cowslips on the south downs, Sussex.
Early purple orchid surrounded by cowslips on the south downs | © National Trust Images/Graham Welfare

We want to make the countryside more accessible. This means removing barriers, both physical and cultural. In particular, we are promoting access to the Downs directly from the urban fringes with new information and guides. We're helping visitors to find unexplored areas of the Downs and raising awareness of the new Countryside Code.

The projects that under our 'Connecting Downs and Towns' theme are:

Creating Connections

Lead partners - National Trust & Railway Land Wildlife Trust

Railway Land Wildlife Trust Chalk Life Rangers

There are two Chalk Life Rangers at the Railway Land Wildlife Trust who work at various sites in East Sussex including: Landport Bottom, outside of Lewes; Butts Meadow near Eastbourne; and Riverside Park, Castle Hill and Drove Park all near Newhaven.

The rangers are running various chalk grassland habitat management projects, working with volunteers. They also organise a range of events and activities aimed at engaging new urban fringe audiences with the wonders of the chalk downland on their doorstep, enabling them to take action to protect it and enjoy the wellbeing benefits it provides. Part of this work involves recruiting local Chalk life / Dog life Volunteers, who help combine their usual dog walks with care of the landscape.

For more information please email the Railway Land Wildlife Trust Chalk Life Rangers or you can read more here.

National Trust Chalk Life Rangers

The two National Trust Chalk Life Rangers run projects on Southwick Hill outside Brighton and at Gayles Farm near Seaford.

Southwick Hill

Southwick Hill is on the western edge of the urban conurbation that stretches from Brighton to Shoreham. This was long regarded as one of the best chalk grassland sites on the Brighton Downs. However, the biodiverse chalk grassland of Southwick Hill is being rapidly lost to encroaching scrub and rank grasses. Together with the help of volunteers, our Chalk Life Rangers are helping to restore some of the habitat so that the local communicty can continue to enjoy the hill that they have long known and loved. There are a range of volunteer activities and nature walks that run here throughout the year.

Gayles Farm

Gayles Farm, high on the Downs, above the Seven Sisters Country Park, was once the site of RAF Friston where the skies rang with the sound of Spitfires and Hurricane aircraft. Now it’s a farm again with just the sound of skylarks, lambs and the occasional tractor. This part of the South Downs is famous for its rare chalk grassland habitat with the grassland near the cliffs and surrounding the farm supporting orchids, special chalk grassland plants, and downland butterflies such as the 'blues' and dark green fritillaries.

For many years Gayles Farm has been an arable farm but, as part of the Changing Chalk project, we’ve been changing its use, so it provides a biodiverse stepping-stone for the chalkland wildlife. We have planted the old runways with a meadow grassland mix full of wildflowers. This will help wildlife move across the landscape while the farm provides good food for its animals that maintain the chalk grassland.

July 2023 saw a successful festival that celebrated the nature and history of Gayles. You can read about it on our Events page or, if you'd like more information about Gayles Farm or want to get involved as a volunteer, please contact Chalk LIfe Ranger, Thyone at

Summer 2024 will see us celebrating at Southwick Hill. If you want to get invovled with volunteering at Southwick or to find out more, please contact Chalk Life Ranger, Kim at

Children on a school trip at East Riddlesden Hall, West Yorkshire
School children enjoying a visit | © ©National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Farm School

Lead partner - Brighton & Hove City Council

Brighton & Hove City Council are running a series of farm visits and educational sessions for local Primary School children to help them get to know their local environment. Linked to the school curriculum, these sessions support education about nature conservation, protection of the chalk grassland and understanding about farming and food production.

For more information or to get involved please email

Find Your Future

Lead partner - National Trust

With activity days to facilitate wellbeing, support learning, and maximise career opportunities, 'Find your Future' is a series of workshops and activity sessions for young people who live on the urban fringe of the Downs .

Our Countryside Skills Sessions are aimed at young people to help them feel a stronger connection to the chalk grasslands while learning new skills for work and life. Young people can see what life is like working in countryside management by participating in a range of outdoor activities and getting involved with different Changing Chalk projects.

There are also additional one-off workshops and activtities being run throughout the year.

For more information or to get involved please email

A group of volunteers carrying out conservation work on Southwick Hill
Scrub clearance work on Southwick Hill | © Natalie Barb

Gateway to the Downs

Lead partner - National Trust

This project is about making the Downs more accessible to urban fringe communities and to people with disabilities. We've created a Changing Chalk Travelling Hub - an engagement van designed to explain more about the Downs and the chalk grasslands. It will move between various sites across the Downs. In addition, the travelling hub will bring free-to-use off-road mobility vehicles to various sites. There will be special paths and tracks and maps for people who borrow these vehicles.

For more information or to get involved please email

Greening the Cities

Lead partner - The Living Coast Biosphere

This project will be bringing Downland wildflowers into urban areas by creating new areas of wildflower planting in city parks. We have been busy liaising with local communities and finding local volunteers to grow plants and seeds for the project. Over the summer of 2023, we will be running training courses for local community members to ensure the longevity of the new plantings.

For more information or to get involved please email

Growing New Roots

Lead partner - Brighton & Hove Food Partnership

The Brighton & Hove Food Partnership are running programmes of therapeutic outdoor activities for vulnerable people in the project area at beautiful chalk grassland locations. As well as improving ther peronal wellbeing, participants learn about the heritage and conservation of chalk downlands and build up confidence to visit independently.

You can find out more about these sessions here.

For more information or to get involved please email

Stile building in the South Downs
Stile building in the South Downs | © National Trust/Josie Jeffery

Sussex Grazed

Lead partner - Brighton & Hove Food Partnership

Sussex Grazed aims to get locally-grazed sheep and cattle back into the local food system, sharing the meat between interested residents. Not only does this reconnect people with local food production, reduces food miles and supports local farmers, it raise awareness of the importance of grazing to managing chalk grassland.

Working with Sussex landowners, farmers, residents and food businesses this is a local meat buying scheme that benefits local people and the environment. There are collection hubs along the coast between Shoreham and Eastbourne for a local meat box scheme of grass-fed lamb, hogget, mutton, beef, and even goat.

You can find out more here or, to get involved, please email

Project Blogs & Updates

May 2023

Creating Connections - latest news from the Chalk Life Rangers

Southwick Hill was long regarded as one of the best chalk grassland sites on the Brighton Downs with just the right level of grazing to allow the flora and fauna that makes this habitat so special to thrive. However, the last ten years has seen an increase in issues such as cut fences and worrying of livestock meaning the tenant farmer is no longer able to graze livestock on the majority of the hill. As a result, the herb-rich biodiverse chalk grassland is being rapidly lost to encroaching scrub. Pathways are closing over and many in the local community report feeling that they are losing sight of the Downs and the hill that they have long known and loved. Read More.

Image of Europe's smallest butterfly, the Small Blue Butterfly captured on South Downs, Sussex
Small Blue Butterfly, South Downs, Sussex | © National Trust/ Kim Greaves