Communicating the South Downs

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Secrets of the High Woods

Landscape and Lasers – how the Secrets of the South Downs’ hidden landscape have been revealed

Beneath the ancient woods of West Sussex lies a landscape littered with traces of the people who have lived and worked on the South Downs. Until recently, much of the archaeology of this area was hidden from view. This has now changed. Over the past three years the Secrets of the High Woods project captured LiDAR data which has revealed a host of human stories hidden beneath the trees.

Informed by the LiDAR data our community of volunteers have rediscovered a lost landscape using physical evidence on the ground and researching old maps and documents to understand how people have lived here, from the first farmers to the present day.

See the Secrets of the High Woods Exhibition throughout the year and into 2017.

The project has helped us to better understand the historic forestry practises and recollections of the woodland within living memory through an oral history programme. This summer we are bringing the historic landscape to life for everyone through a travelling exhibition, a book and educational materials available through our Learning Zone. Visitors will soon be able to explore the area themselves in activities such as heritage-themes geocaches and walking and cycling routes.

The heritage of this wooded landscape is uniquely preserved because of the tradition of forestry in the area. We have worked closely with those who manage the woods to integrate the results of the project into their day-to-day activities, thus ensuring its preservation for generations to come.

The Heritage Lottery Funded project is hosted by the South Downs National Park Authority with support from Chichester District Council and English Heritage, and will run until March 2017.

You can find out more about the project by viewing our Secrets of the High Woods Slideshare.

Secrets of the High Woods Book

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Alongside the project a new book Secrets of the High Woods: Revealing Hidden Landscapes: Edited by John Manley  has been published bringing to life some of the stories discovered by volunteers while researching archives.

Not only does the book relate the story of how extensive field systems and a lost Roman road were discovered but also reveals how volunteer researchers uncovered evidence of prisoner-of-war camps; docking stations for airships; abandoned unexploded bombs; and a training school where Canadian soldiers underwent an assault course under live fire.

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