Changing Chalk events and activities
From workshops and walks to festivals and archaeological digs, to celebrations of nature and our cultural heritage, there's a host of Changing Chalk events and activities to celebrate the chalk grasslands of the eastern South Downs over the next few years. Here's what to expect from the National Trust and our partners.
Nature and Biodiversity
Throughout the year our Chalk Life Rangers are on hand to share their passion for the plants and wildlife of the South Downs, offering nature walks and talks at our various sites. Find out more about our bugs, butterflies, bats, birds and more.
Our partners at Buglife run regular pollinator workshops at various sites across the South Downs. Booking on these is essential.
In July volunteers got involved with surveys to track the progress of the Wart-biter Bush-cricket. This stunning insect is incredibly rare and known to be living in just six sites in the UK, four of which are within the Changing Chalk project area.
To find out more about forthcoming activiteis and events please email Conservation Officer, Alice Parfitt
There are seasonal nature walks and volunteer days at Southwick Hill. Led by our expert rangers, this is a chance to see wildlife in its natural habitat. You'll be amazed how much there is to see right on the edge of town. In summer there are bird and butterfly walks while early autumn sees bat walks running. To find out more about these events please email Chalk Life Ranger Kim Greaves
Railway Land Wildlife Trust
Find out more about the activities organised by the Railway Land Wildlife Trust who run regular nature walks and volunteer sessions at Landport Bottom in Lewes and Butts Brow and Meadow near Eastbourne.
At Waterhall, a decommisioned golf course just outside Brighton, there are regular walks and talks and chances to get up close to nature and see how the rewilding is going. There are also regular volunteer sessions. You can find out what's on here.
Glorious Gayles Festival
In July 2023 Gayles Farm held a festival celebrating the history of the site and showcase the work Changing Chalk is doing to create a green corridor and enhance the area's biodiversity.
During WW2, the skies around RAF Friston at Gayles Farm rang with the sound of Spitfires and Hurricane aircraft. In the lead up to D-Day, 1400 airmen and WAAFs were stationed here. In 1944 over 300 planes landed – many of them on the emergency landing strip. Imagine heading back after a raid, low on fuel, maybe damaged; you see the chalk cliffs, then Friston airfield and safety.
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 rare chalk grassland habitat; the grassland near the cliffs and surrounding the farm supports 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.
We held the Glorious Gayles Festival in July 2023 to celebrate thousands of years of history, and experience nature and farming in this area.
Visitors could walk through the wildflower meadows or ride past them in a cart drawn by a Gypsy cob horse. There were nature talks, bug hunts, hands-on archaeology opportunites and art and craft activities. Experts were on hand to talk about the history of the airfield and a local farmer brought their sheep, goats and tractor and were on hand to talk about farming on the Downs. All in all this was a great day to learn a lot about the South Downs’ chalk grasslands.
A similar festival of celebration and activities is being planned for summer 2024 at Southwick Hill.
History and Archaeology
People have lived on the South Downs for thousands of years, leaving a landscape packed with amazing history.
The Changing Chalk team were delighted to take part in the national Heritage Open Days in September 2023, running walks, talks and an array of cultural heritage activities.
Visitors to the Butts Brow heritage open day enjoyed hands-on archaeology, flint knapping, guided walks, arts, crafts and photography, while visitors to Saddlescombe Farm were able to tour the old farmhouse, walled garden and outbuildings of the ancient Saddlescombe Farm such as the donkey wheel and poachers' gaol which are normally closed to the public.
Visitors got to meet Prissy the horse sculpture that has been specially created by Romany blacksmith, Jake Bowers, to reflect the long and historic connections of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities to the South Downs, they listened to readings of works by members of Writing Our Legacy, inspired by the South Downs. There were also demonstrations of traditional crafts, folk singing, and the delights of a mini farmers' market including Saddlescombe-grazed lamb boxes provided by Changing Chalk partner, Sussex Grazed.
You can discover local herirtage exploration opportunities at Heritage Open Days. Next year, it will run 6-15 September 2024.
The Big Dig
In June 2023, our partners at Heritage Eastbourne ran The Big Dig where people in Eastbourne dug archaeological test pits in their gardens and three public sites. With Dig HQ in Motcombe Gardens there was a real festival feel with a range of activities to enjoy, from flint knapping to Mediaeval music.
If you missed the Big Dig, there will be future opportunities to take part in our archaeology events that we will post here.
Our own Heritage Office, Gary Webster, gave an online talk about archaeology on the South Downs in July 2023. This is part of the Archaeology Council's event 'An Evening with National Trust Archaeologist'.
South Downs Cultural Heritage
Cultural Heritage Forge Day
The South Downs have a rich and vibrant cultural heritage. For hundreds of years, the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities have lived, worked and travelled on the South Downs, working the land or at the funfair that used to run at Devil’s Dyke in Victorian times. Our Forge Day at Devil's Dyke in June 2023 was part of Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month with visitors helping to create 'Prissy', a life-size iron Gypsy Cob sculpture that, once complete, will be sited on the South Downs.
Prissy’s creator, Romany blacksmith, Jake Bowers, brought the sculpture and his travelling forge to Devil’s Dyke to give people the opportunity to forge part of her mane. Alongside Prissy were real-life Gypsy cobs, Sapphire and Cherokee, who were happy to meet the people at the event. Cultural auditor, Kate Richardson, and Janet Keet-Black, a member of the community, Gypsy historian and author of ‘Gypsies of Britain’ were also there, explaining more about the intimate links between the community and the Downs and how to search the records to trace where they travelled over the years.
Writing Our Legacy
Our partners at Writing our Legacy host a number of seasonal workshops where you can get creative, inspired by the South Downs. You can find their events listings here and, to get more information, you also get in contact by email.
Growing New Roots
Our partners at the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership are running 'Wellbeing in Nature' courses throughout the year. These are aimed at people with mental health issues and are a series of workshops that help bring people in contact with nature and the South Downs. These sessions vary geographically. There is a taster day and a series of autumn workshops beginning in October for people living in the coastal towns in East Sussex. More details are available here.
Countryside Skills Sessions
One of the main aims of Changing Chalk is to build links that help make people feel closer to the countryside. Thanks to our project, Find Your Future, we're helping young people feel a stronger connection to the chalk grasslands while learning new skills for work and life.
Find your Future is a stepping stones project that allows young people to 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. To find out about upcoming sessions for autumn 2023 and in 2024 please contact Project Manager, Josie Jeffery.