History of the VRS
The South Downs Volunteer Ranger Service (VRS) was created in 1981 by Paul Millmore, then a Project Officer with East Sussex County Council. Its initial aims were to help improve public access in the countryside behind East Sussex’s Heritage Coast between Eastbourne and Seaford. Very quickly, the growing group of volunteers added practical conservation projects and also helped to promote the work that they did. When a colleague left to work for West Sussex County Council, he created another VRS doing conservation work and looking after footpaths and bridleways in areas of West Sussex. The groups grew and began to help other organisations in looking after the Sussex countryside. Early partners included the National Trust, English Nature, the Forestry Commission, Brighton and Hove Councils amongst others and they and their successors continue to benefit from the help of groups of skilled Volunteer Rangers.
In the mid-1990s, Volunteer Rangers from the two groups took up the chance to merge and form a single VRS supporting the newly formed Sussex Downs Conservation Board (SDCB) in its work to conserve and enhance the landscape and wildlife of the Sussex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). However, not content with covering an area stretching from Eastbourne to the West Sussex/Hampshire border, in 2000, an agreement between SDCB and the East Hampshire AONB Joint Advisory Committee led to the creation of another new branch of the VRS to work in Hampshire. Now the group truly lived up to its name, working throughout the South Downs.
In 2010, when the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) was preparing to take on its role for the recently created National Park, it invited the VRS to affiliate to the Authority. A vote of the membership was overwhelmingly in favour and since April 2011, the VRS has worked in close partnership with SDNPA and regularly helps more than a dozen other organisations, large and small, with their work.
The partnership with SDNPA offers great scope to broaden the variety of work the VRS can support so that more can be achieved for the National Park and even more people will be interested in helping.