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National Trust Chalk Life Ranger, Kim Greaves, shares his passion for the chalk grassland of Southwick Hill

Red star thistle on the chalky grasslands of the South Downs at Southwick Hill
Red star thistle on the chalky grasslands of the South Downs at Southwick Hill | © Kim Greaves

Southwick Hill, situated on the western edge of the urban conurbation that stretches from Brighton to Shoreham, 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 wildlife that makes this habitat so special to thrive.

However, over the past decade the tenant farmer on this site has faced continued issues with fence cutting and worrying of his sheep. As a result, he is no longer able to graze livestock on the majority of the hill and the herb-rich, biodiverse chalk grassland of Southwick Hill is being rapidly lost to encroaching scrub and rank grasses. Pathways are closing over and many in the local community report feeling they are losing sight of the Downs and the hill that they have long known and loved.

An image of a Pyramidal orchid growing on Southwick Hill, South Downs, Sussex
A Pyramidal orchid on Southwick Hill, Sussex | © National Trust/ Kim Greaves

As such a key site for wildlife and the community, Changing Chalk's Creating Connections project is looking to build on this local interest to restore an understanding of the hill being a farmed landscape that benefits both people and nature.

Kim says: "In my role as Chalk Life Ranger with the National Trust, I spent much of last summer surveying the site with local botanist, Rezvan Habibi to establish its current condition. This allowed us to develop a short-term site management plan, targeting measures such as scrub clearance to restore and re-connect the best areas of remaining chalk grassland. Over the next three years we are looking to add infrastructure such as accessible stiles. This will enable more people from the local area to benefit from the Downs on their doorstep."

A Small Blue butterfly with open wings
Europe's smallest butterfly, the Small Blue, at home on the chalk grassland of the South Downs | © National Trust Images/Matthew Oates

"In surveying the site, we found that Southwick Hill still holds many natural chalk grassland treasures just waiting for us to lend them a helping hand. This includes Europe’s smallest butterfly, the Small Blue (Cupido minimus); large colonies of the heat-loving Silver-spotted Skipper butterfly (Epargyreus clarus); Sussex’s county flower, the round-headed rampion (Phyteuma orbiculare); and the dainty and rare chalk grassland specialist plant, 'Stars in the Grass' or Bastard Toadflax (Thesium humifusum)."

Southwick Hill on the South Downs before scrub clearance work by volunteers and rangers
Southwick Hill on the South Downs before scrub clearance work | © National Trust/ Kim Greaves

"Over the past autumn and winter, we ran regular conservation volunteering sessions on the hill and the response from the local community was fantastic. In a relatively short period of time, the efforts of our volunteers allowed us to reconnect two areas of high-quality chalk grassland, which had become separated by a dense thicket of encroaching scrub. With careful management over the next few years, this area will slowly revert to grassland, allowing specialist chalk grassland plants to thrive and wildlife to move more freely through the site.

In addition to helping us to restore important habitats, this scrub clearance work offers many holistic benefits to our volunteers: building friendships, skills and an understanding of the history and ecology of the Downs; and improving overall fitness and wellbeing in the oudoors."

An image showing a section of Southwick Hill, South Downs, Sussex following scrub clearance work
Southwick Hill, South Downs, Sussex after scrub clearance work | © National Trust/ Kim Greaves

Regular volunteering sessions are continuing throughout spring and summer, and there are a host of free nature engagement events coming up over the coming months at Southwick Hill, including birdsong walks with the RSPB, bat walks with the Sussex Bat Group, guided butterfly, wildflower and fungi walks, and community picnics with bug hunting and crafts.

If you're interested in joining the volunteering sessions at Southwick Hill, or coming along to one of our upcoming events, please do get in touch with Kim at

A scene showing the prominent hill formations and iron-age hill fort on the chalk grassland South Downs at Devils Dyke near Brighton, stretching away into the distance with fields in the valley below.

Find out more

Changing Chalk is a partnership of organisations working together towards a sustainable future for the eastern South Downs. Led by the National Trust, the partnership is restoring lost habitats, bringing histories to life and providing new experiences in the outdoors.