Farming & Forestry
Bronze Age agriculturalists first cleared extensive tracts of woodland from the South Downs 6,000 years ago. Medieval sheep farmers grazed the chalk grasslands, creating the conditions for wildflowers and butterflies to flourish. Today progressive winemakers are tending vineyards that create sparkling wines to rival those of Champagne.
The history of the Downs is inextricably linked with the history of farming. 85 per cent of the area is farmed. This makes the South Downs quite different from many of the older national parks. This is a place marked by centuries of cultivation without which we would not have our sweeping chalk grassland, lowland heath and lush woodland. Being a cultivated landscape brings both bounty and challenges.
It means our pubs and farmers’ markets are filled with fresh local produce, but there are places where dogs must be kept on a lead. In some places farmers have returned their cattle to graze on heathland, giving wildflowers such as sundew a chance to flourish. Elsewhere projects like the South Downs Farmland Bird Initiative have enabled ground-nesting birds like grey partridge and lapwing to co-exist on farmers’ land. As the tapestry of fields, villages, vineyards and pubs attest, the South Downs is very much a shared endeavour. It’s farming that holds it together.
Wander through the South Downs and it is impossible not to be impressed by the beauty of our woodland. You can discover some of the largest yew woodlands in the UK, lose yourself in steep valley sides cloaked in hangar woodlands, large oak and beech woodland complexes and traditional coppice woodland.
In all, 23 per cent of the South Downs National Park is covered by woodland, and half of this has been there for over 400 years. Our woodlands are an important part of the heart and character of the South Downs National Park and are important for their biodiversity, recreation, well being and for economic development. Our woodlands also play a huge role in the enjoyment of the South Downs – 10,000 hectares of woodland is open for public access, that’s over half of all open access land in the National Park.