Communicating the South Downs


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The story of our volunteers

The Secrets of the High Woods volunteers have covered hundreds of miles and clocked up more than 6,000 hours of field work. Our army of volunteers have undertaken fieldwork, archival research and oral histories to unearth the secret history of our local landscape.

The dedicated team come from a variety of backgrounds, some bringing previous archaeology experience and others complete beginners. All were united through their passion to highlight the many cultural heritage assets hidden within the South Downs landscape.

Fieldwork: Out in the woods

”The ‘ground truthing’ exercises to look at the features shown on LiDAR charts changed the way I look at our local landscape.” Mark Taylor

LiDAR reveals features on the ground but it cannot distinguish what these features may be, this is where our volunteers come in. Equipped with a bespoke app loaded on to tablets, volunteers set out to verify some of the lumps and bumps identified in the LiDAR survey. Comparing the features to Ordnance Survey maps, historic maps, aerial photography and previous archaeological records, our volunteer field team explored pockets of wood land within the project area.

The fieldwork was physically exhausting and spirited volunteers battled the elements. They were rewarded for their efforts by findings of prehistoric field system lynchets, extraction pits, post-medieval boundary banks and WW2 masonry and earthworks. Results of the field work were recorded and fed back to Historic England, to incorporate our project findings into the National Mapping Programme.

Archival Research: Histories and mysteries in the archive

“I have enjoyed delving into archives and been touched by the human stories behind the yellowing papers tied up with pink ribbon” Roger Green, Volunteer

Our volunteers also undertook archival research, burying their noses in written and visual records from the past; deeds, maps, grants, court records, wills, photographs, artwork and other historical documents. This project allowed our history volunteers a unique opportunity to combine both archaeology and LiDAR findings into their histories.

Historical documents are completely unique and irreplaceable. They are kept safe in county record offices and other state and family archives. Our intrepid research volunteers have spent hundreds of hours trawling through the secrets and mysteries contained within these archives.

The human traces our volunteers have uncovered and woven together offer us a glimpse of what it must have been like to live and work in the South Downs through the centuries – stories of success and failure and national events overtaking ordinary people’s lives.

Secrets of the High Woods, led by the South Downs National Park Authority, in partnership with Chichester District Council and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and is drawing to a close and we want to say a BIG THANK YOU to all Volunteers without whom none of this would have been possible.