A snapshot in time

This week has seen the launch of the State of the National Park report.  Published by the South Downs National Park Authority it is an attempt to record everything that contributes to what makes the South Downs special.  It could be the landscape beauty, the health of our local wildlife, or the strength of community spirit and enterprise.  All of these things and more work together to create and shape the South Downs that we know and love today.

The Park’s special qualities were defined by the various communities with an interest in the Downs earlier in the year.  This report is the next logical step in the process in attempting to capture the health and robustness of these special qualities.  The stage after this, which has already begun, is to work up a Management Plan which starts to tackle some of the problems or deficiencies identified by this report.

While the report has been published, in some senses it is far from complete.  Within it there are numerous data gaps and requests for more information.  However, this does not undermine its validity, more highlights the issues and difficulties in collecting and monitoring data over such a large area and on a wide range of topics.  In time, it will be necessary to fill these voids and it may be that this information has already been captured by someone.  However, there may be instances where the Park Authority will need to invest in data collection or analysis.

In the meantime, the current report is well worth a read and no doubt will be an invaluable tool as time progresses.

Public urged to back South Downs farmer

The South Downs Network is urging the public to get behind Peter Knight, Estate Manager for the Norfolk Estate in Arundel who recently was selected as South East regional winner in the RSPB Telegraph Nature of Farming Awards.  He has now made it through to the final four in the national competition, from an initial 350 entrants.  Judges were not only impressed by the way that Peter manages the farm to the benefit to wildlife but also the way that he promotes the benefits of farming this way to others.

Who wins the national competition is decided by a public vote which is open from now until September 5.  You can vote by visiting www.rspb.org.uk/farmvote, calling the RSPB on 01767 693680 to request a FREEPOST postal voting form, online via The Telegraph, or at country shows throughout the summer.  Everyone who votes in this year’s competition will be entered into a prize draw to win a luxury break for two people at Ragdale Hall worth over £500.

The South Downs Network is urging the public to get behind Peter and the Norfolk Estate in recognition for the all the work he has done to promote and accomodate wildlife on the 1240ha arable and sheep farm in West Sussex.  It has been under Peter’s management for the past 24 years, during which he has supervised the change from a fully production based system to a commercially managed estate that has conservation at its heart.

The Estate manages over 1000ha of arable farmland, which benefits skylarks, fieldfares, corn buntings, grey partridge, redwings, harvest mice, brown hares, short-tailed voles and a variety of insects, all of which have increased in significant numbers with the implementation of Natural England’s agri-environmental schemes.

Lapwings, barn owls and buzzards are flourishing across the whole Estate and the woodland is home to two rare species of butterfly – the Duke of Burgundy and the Pearl-bordered Fritillary.

For more information about the competition see the RSPB’s website, but don’t forget to vote!

Black Hole in the heart of Amberley

A pretty village situated on the South Downs Way, one of the most popular National Trails, at the centre of England’s newest National Park.  What better place could you imagine to run a profitable pub?

Yet local people in Amberley are having to fight to keep their pub, the Black Horse, some of whom see it as a fight for the very future of village.  The trouble started in March when the pub closed and the owner, a national chain, started selling off various pubs around the country because it was in too much debt.  Unfortunately, the Black Horse appears to have been sold to a property developer who wants to convert it into housing, rather than someone wanting to run it as a pub.

This has led to local people fighting a spirited campaign.  However, to date they have not been helped by the system, so it would seem.  Given the significance of the application to the socio-economic development of the village, and the importance of the pub in supporting people enjoying the recreational opportunities of the National Park, it is surprising that the South Downs National Park Authority has not called this application in already.  It is currently being handled by Horsham District Council on behalf of the Park Authority, but information about the proposed conversion is hard to find on Horsham’s website.

Villagers have fought and won many battles before such as over the future of their local shop, their local school and proposals for the Wildbrooks which are now an RSPB reserve.  They deserve to succeed again, but to do so they will need the backing of the Park Authority.  It should be taking a firm stance on this development proposal which will undermine National Park purposes as well as ripping out the heart of the village community.  It’s why many people fought the battle to get a National Park.  Now the Authority needs to step up to the plate and be counted.  It can only win it friends, as well as safeguarding village life in the centre of the Park.

New Park Authority member appointed

Earlier this month Diana Kershaw was appointed by the Secretary of State for the Environment as a new Member of the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA).  She is one of the 7 national members on the SDNPA and replaces Susan Warren who stood down at the end of 2011.

Diana Kershaw has worked as a local authority transport and town planner, primarily in East London and was Head of Planning for Newham Council where she led the Stratford development initiatives. Following ten years as Director of Planning Transport and Development at Bristol City Council she worked for a business-led initiative looking at the future of the Bristol/Bath region. She has been a member of boards of the South West Regional Development Agency, business link, a primary care trust, a theatre company, the SW National Trust region, and was a member of Exmoor National Park Authority for seven years.

The Network wishes her all the best and hopes that with her experience she will make a useful contribution to the South Downs National Park, particularly as the Park Authority looks to develop its Core Strategy over the next few years.

Biosphere bid to launch

On Tuesday, 22 May, (International Day for Biodiversity) the Brighton & Hove and Lewes Downs Biosphere Partnership will launch its bid for the South Downs between the River Adur and River Ouse plus the urban area of Brighton & Hove, to become a Biosphere reserve.

A Biosphere reserve is a UNESCO designation of excellence which if agreed would give international recognition to this local environment and its management.  Read Tony Whitbread’s (Chief Exec of Sussex Wildlife Trust) blog on the Biosphere for more detailed information, plus find out about the launch on our Events page.

The Biosphere partnership is made up of local authorities and a number of members from the South Downs Network.  Also involved are the South Downs National Park Authority, Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority, Dorothy Stringer High School, University of Brighton, Natural England and the Environment Agency.  For more information or to become a Friend of the Biosphere, view the Biosphere website.

National Park costs us less

One of the arguments for having a South Downs National Park was that it would bring in more funding to the area, while actually saving local people money.  An analysis of the figures now shows this to be correct.

This is contrary to what one local paper said recently when it claimed that the National Park Authority was costing Sussex residents £7 each.  Apart from forgetting that the National Park extends into Hampshire, it didn’t realise that the Park Authority’s budget of £11.4 million is not paid for solely by Hampshire and Sussex taxpayers.  Instead it is funded by the whole nation in recognition of its national importance, costing around 18 pence per person nationally.

However, this ignores the fact that around £3.5 million of the Park Authority’s budget is for planning which it has taken over from local authorities. Therefore this is not an extra cost for taxpayers. Taking this into account reduces the additional cost of the Park Authority to around 13 pence per person nationally.  This figure also ignores the fact that some national funding was given to the previous body managing the South Downs.  If this was included in the calculations, the additional cost would fall further still.

Another consideration is that before we had a National Park, local authorities previously paid the South Downs Joint Committee to manage the Downs. Now they no longer have to do this. Brighton & Hove City Council for example now saves around £80,000 a year, equivalent to a 32 pence per person saving.  In the rest of the Downs, the maths is more complex due to having two tier local authorities but the principle is the same.

Therefore overall, taxpayers in Sussex and Hampshire are likely to be better off.  In Brighton & Hove, the overall saving amounts to 19 pence per person per year.

Obviously, there were many other good reasons for wanting a National Park, but the fact that we are saving money while improving the conservation and protection of the South Downs is good news indeed.

National Park Celebrations

This weekend marks the first anniversary of the South Downs National Park Authority and the second anniversary of the National Park coming into existence.  To celebrate a number of people and organisations are holding walks

across the Downs on Sunday, 1 April.

Birling Gap – 10am in the car park, for a 4.5 mile walk organised by the South Downs Society.

Clayton Windmills – 9.30am in the car park, for a 14 mile walk organised by the South Downs Society.

Lewes Station – 9.30am, for a 12 mile walk with 6 mile option.  Organised by Mayor of Lewes – dedicated to the memory of Paul Millmore.

Queen Elizabeth Country Park – 10am, for a 6-8 mile walk organised by Hampshire and Sussex Ramblers and supported by CNP and CPRE.

Rowland Castle Station – 10.15am for a 4.5 mile walk organised by the South Downs Society.

See our Events page for more details.

Nature Improvement Area success

The South Downs National Park Authority’s (SDNPA) bid the South Downs Way Ahead has been chosen as one of 12 pilot Nature Improvement Areas.  This means it will get £608,000 from the Government (slightly less than anticipated) to proceed.  The total project package from all partners is worth around £3 million.  Click here for more info about Nature Improvement Areas.