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Changing Chalk partnership

Public footpath signpost at Devil's Dyke, West Sussex
Public footpath at Devil's Dyke | © National Trust Images/Gary Cosham

Changing Chalk is a multi-partner, multi-project initiative led by the National Trust. Its aim is to restore lost habitats, bring histories to life, and provide new experiences in the outdoors.

By connecting nature, people and heritage across a 458 sqkm area of the eastern South Downs, this internationally-significant landscape can be restored and protected for today and all our tomorrows.

Over four years, the 18 projects being delivered by the ten partners will create multiple connections across the urban and rural areas of the Downs, and will restore and reconnect the fragmented areas of remaining chalk grassland. Changing Chalk will:

  • support nature’s recovery and climate resilience in the area
  • create opportunities for work, learning and leisure time for people in the area
  • provide engaging activities for people to enjoy, enhancing health and wellbeing

The Changing Chalk project is supported by a £2.23m National Lottery Heritage Fund grant and funding from People's Postcode Lottery and The Linbury Trust.

 Panoramic view at sunset in August from Devil's Dyke, South Downs, West Sussex
Enjoy a walk along the South Downs | © National Trust Images / John Miller

The themes around connecting nature, people and heritage have never felt more important or relevant.

A quote by Richard HendersonNational Trust Chair of the Project Board

Why is the Changing Chalk project important?

Much of the Changing Chalk project area falls within the South Downs National Park and it is home to rare and protected wildlife and plantlife, and important archaeological sites. But what also makes this area so special is its rare chalk grassland which has its origins 6,000 years ago when people first began clearing forests to settle and farm.

It supports such a rich and diverse range of plants and insects that it’s sometimes referred to as ‘Europe’s tropical rainforest’. Around 40 species of flowering plant can be found in just one square metre of chalk grassland, with many of these species growing nowhere else, including rare orchids and wildflowers. It is also home to rare insects including the Wart-biter Bush-cricket.

However, unimproved chalk grassland has suffered badly from loss and fragmentation over the past 80 years. Since the national call to "plough up" in the 1940s, there has been a decline in traditional ways of looking after the landscape. It now makes up just 4% of the land in the South Downs National Park and many of the sites that remain are small and isolated, with the chalk grassland wildlife threatened by encroaching scrub as well as climate change.

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.
The remains of an Iron Age hill fort at Devils Dyke near Brighton | © National Trust Images/Laurence Perry

Our urban communities

Neighbouring the Downs is one of the most densely-populated coastal regions of northern Europe. Around 750,00 people live here, in multi-cultural towns like bustling Brighton and Hove, charming Lewes, and historic Eastbourne.

But the Changing Chalk project area has some of the most economically-deprived wards in the UK, with high unemployment, and poor physical and mental health. The stresses of today’s world have created new challenges and the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of access to nature and open space for people’s well-being.

The Sussex Downs and towns have a rich shared heritage but both are facing unprecedented threats.

  • More than 80% of its rare chalk grassland has been lost.
  • 12% of its archaeological sites are under threat.
  • 55% of its schools have pupils living in socio-economic deprivation.
Devil's Dyke, West Sussex, winter view
Devil's Dyke winter view | © National Trust Images/Gary Cosham

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.

A quote by Jane CecilNational Trust General Manager, South Downs portfolio 

Themes and Projects

Changing Chalk is delivering 18 inter-connected projects and activities to address these challenges which, together, unite nature, people and heritage and create a more sustainable future for the Downs and their towns. In addition, a series of apprenticeships and training opportunities are being created, giving young people across Brighton and Hove, Eastbourne and Lewes the chance to learn the skills needed by rangers and archaeologists. The projects can be summarised under three themes:

Restoring chalkland biodiversity
Over 800ha of land will be newly managed to benefit nature, including 90ha of golf course returned to species-rich chalk downland and 40 sites returned to active 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. We will also be researching new, more sustainable methods of managing the fragile chalk grassland. Discover more about these projects
Connecting downs and towns
Therapeutic activities and new ‘Things to do and see’ maps will help local communities access green space and the Downs will come to the towns with new chalk grassland planting on 12 city sites. A ‘Find your Future’ programme will support young people gain vital skills, whilst 2,250 primary pupils will have the chance to experience Farm School. More than 40 volunteer Dog Ambassadors will raise awareness of why we need grazing on the Downs and encourage dog owners to help us in our mission.Learn more about these projects
Hearts and histories of the Downs
Residents of Eastbourne have been invited to join a community excavation project to uncover the archaeological history under their feet. Annual celebrations for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month will explore the cultural links of this community to the Downs, while seasonal programmes, micro bursaries and writing workshops will engage people of colour and the wider public to respond creatively to their experience and connection with the Downs.Read more about these projects

Community Grants Scheme

If you've got a project of your own in mind that supports local, grassroots and community-led initiatives and which will contribute to the overall objectives and vision of the Changing Chalk partnership, the Changing Chalk Community Grants Scheme may be able to help.

Autumn 2023 applications window now closed

While our current window for funding applications is now closed, the next round will open in Spring 2024. There are grants of up to £5,000 available for community projects and up to £10,000 for priority chalk grassland projects.

Expressions of interest for habitat projects between £5,000 and £10,000 are welcomed at any stage.

Next round of applications opens Spring 2024

We will post details of the next round here as soon as they are confirmed so do check back. In the meantime you can learn more about the Community Grants Scheme, find out who is eligible to apply and the process for doing so.

First grants awarded

Thanks to the National Trust and The National Lottery Heritage Fund, we’ve already funded grants totalling £21,828. In the first round of applications, six groups were awarded grants varying from £1,000 to £5,000. You can read more about this round's successful projects here.

An image of a cyclist riding on a garvel track across a grass hill with the sun behind them
Enjoy a challenging ride on Ditchling Beacon, East Sussex | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

Events and activities

It's easy to get involved with all the events and activities run by the Changing Chalk partners.

Find an event
Take a look at some great events to enjoy, ranging from days out and digs to archaeology talks and nature walks. All showcase the amazing chalk grasslands of the eastern South Downs.Discover events

Volunteering with Changing Chalk

There's a wide range of volunteering opportunities across the partnership's 18 projects covering habitat and conservation, monument mentoring, community participation, office volunteering and more.

Discover your perfect volunteering role
We need the help and support of local people to support this ambitious project. The Changing Chalk partnership is looking for volunteers who want to learn new skills, meet new people, and most importantly are keen to play a vital role in protecting the chalk grasslands and heritage of the South Downs. Find volunteering opportunities

Latest News and Blogs

August 2023

Local groups receive over £20,000 with Changing Chalk Community Grants

The Changing Chalk Community Grants Scheme launched in March 2023 and thanks to The National Lottery Heritage Fund and the National Trust, grants totalling £21,828 have been awarded in the first round of applications. These six groups have now got the green light to put their plans into practice and we can't wait to see what they achieve.

Read about Round 1's successful project bids here

View from Saddlescombe Farm of Devil's Dyke, West Sussex
Community Grants Scheme projects seek to enhance wellbeing and engagement with the eastern South Downs | © Neil Jakeman
a group of people sit on a hill in the South Downs and look at the view
Out on the South Downs admiring the views | © National Trust / Josie Jeffery

Our Funders

Changing Chalk is supported by a £2.23m Heritage Fund grant made possible thanks to National Lottery players; by players of People's Postcode Lottery; and The Linbury Trust. Thank you.

Many thanks also, to our generous supporters who wish to remain anonymous.

Mesolithic flint found by the Skell Valley Project volunteers

Volunteering with Changing Chalk

Find out how you can get involved with the many Changing Chalk projects and help ensure a sustainable future for the eastern South Downs.

Our partners

Brighton and Hove City Council

Brighton and Hove City Council is the local authority of the city of Brighton and Hove.

Visit website 

Brighton and Hove Food Partnership

We’re a non-profit organisation helping people learn to cook, eat a healthy diet, grow their own food and waste less food.

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Buglife is the only organisation in Europe devoted to the conservation of all invertebrates. We’re actively working to save our rarest little animals, everything from bees to beetles, worms to woodlice and jumping spiders to jellyfish

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Lewes and Eastbourne Council

The council with responsibility for the Lewes district and borough of Eastbourne

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Natural England

Natural England is the government’s adviser for the natural environment in England. They help to protect and restore our natural world.

Visit website 

Railway Land Wildlife Trust

The Railway Land Wildlife Trust exists to inspire environmental sustainability by bringing nature to the heart of Lewes.

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South Downs National Park Authority

The South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) is responsible for keeping the South Downs a special place. The SDNPA is also the planning authority for the National Park.

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Sussex Wildlife Trust

We champion wildlife and natural places everywhere in Sussex and inspire people to take action for nature.

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The Living Coast Biosphere

The Living Coast is a UNESCO World Biosphere Region. It embraces a wonderfully biodiverse stretch of the chalky South Downs and Sussex coast between the River Adur at Shoreham-by-Sea and the River Ouse at Newhaven.

Visit website 

Royal Botanic Gardens

Discover the world of science behind our botanical collections, with over 50,000 living plants to be found across our UNESCO World Heritage site.

Visit website 

Historic England

The public body that looks after England's historic environment.

Visit website 

Writing our Legacy

Writing Our Legacy CIC is an arts and heritage organisation that enables Black, Asian and ethnically diverse/BPOC* people to tell their story through writing and the creative arts.

Visit website 

More Changing Chalk stories

Wolstonbury Hill photographed in low sunlight highlighting the prehistoric enclosures and the post medieval flint quarries and part of the large chalk quarry (left).

Discover the Downs from Above 

Discover the Downs from Above and see how human activity has shaped the history and heritage of the Downs with a new report and interactive archaeology tool.

A group of people overlooking the South Downs on a February day

Changing Chalk - helping young people learn new skills and connect with the Downs 

Find out the latest from Find Your Future at Changing Chalk

Volunteers clear the scrub saplings on Southwick Hill

All in a day's volunteering with Changing Chalk 

Find out what is involved in a typical day's volunteering with some Changing Chalk projects aiming to protect our chalk grasslands for today and all our tomorrows in the eastern South Downs.

our archaeology apprentice, Kayleigh, up a hill on a very windy day

Changing Chalk Archaeology Apprentice Blog 

Changing Chalk archaeology apprentice Kayleigh talks about her experiences on our project, Monument Mentors.