The special and unique central area of the South Downs is home to the Secrets of the High Woods project – covering the chalk ridge and dipslope, between Arundel in the east and as far as the A3 in the west. Large areas of woodland, fields, historic villages and isolated homesteads form a beautiful rural mosaic.
This landscape is defined by the underlying chalk geology, with the elevated ridges and the furrowed dry valleys of the dipslope giving a rolling, dramatic topography.
This area has a rich heritage. Important sites ranging from the Palaeolithic through to the 20th Century are on our doorstep. Many of the best known sites are in the open but there are ‘hidden’ depths to this landscape. Many unknown features of archaeological and historic importance are concealed within the woodland which gives this area its special qualities.
The ancient and semi-natural woodland of this area is a legacy of the medieval past, of the forest and parks of the Earls of Arundel and other magnates of the medieval period.
The landscape we see today is also heavily influenced by the development of the great landed estates of the 18th Century. This was a period when new landowners bought up and enclosed large areas of the downland. New plantations were managed for both economic and aesthetic reasons. These large estates continue to the present day, and retain a strong tradition of woodland management for forestry, hunting and recreation.
Searching for archaeology in woodlands is notoriously difficult! Traditional techniques, like field walking, survey and aerial photographic analysis are hampered by tree cover and ground vegetation. Yet this woodland coverage has also preserved our history, protecting delicate archaeological remains from the effects of development and ploughing.
You can find out more about the historic character of the project area by viewing the Wooded Estate Downland chapter of the Integrated Landscape Character Assessment.