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About the project

About the project

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. In 2014 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. 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.

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. Bespoke guidance on the stewardship of the archaeological features has been published and is available to download here.

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.

Educational materials, for Key Stage 2 and 3, have been developed that will be available on the SDNPA Learning Zone from April 2017. Topics covered include the archaeology of the South Downs, the use of science and technology in archaeology, and access to 360 CGI images.

The amount of new data has provided a wealth of opportunity for academics, researchers and professionals to undertake research that has contributed to improving our overall understanding of the project area.  A large amount of information is publically available through the Historic Environment Records, the National Mapping Programme and the LiDAR interactive map. The Secrets of the High Woods research agenda from 2017 to 2022 identifies priorities for the next stage of research; this will be incorporated into the SDNP Research Agenda and shared with potential partners in the Higher Education sector.


"The Downs...too much for one pair of eyes, enough to float a whole population in happiness."