Woodland memories wanted for major history project

Family stories and memories of South Downs woods are wanted for a major project to uncover the secret history that lies beneath the National Park’s ancient woodlands.

Secrets of the High Woods is a community archaeology project, led by the South Downs National Park Authority and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to map the unknown stories and archaeology hidden beneath 305 km2 of woodland between Arundel in the east to the A3 in the west.

Sarah Rance-Riley, Secrets of the High Woods Project Manager, said:

“From family histories of managing, coppicing and working in the timber industry to tales of old railways and tramlines now swallowed by trees or memories of time spent exploring the woods. We need your help to reveal the mysteries hiding in plain view around us.

“Although this project has a strong archaeology component, it is equally important to tap into the precious local knowledge held in communities. Your memories are valuable and by sharing them you can help us build up a picture of how woodland life has changed in the South Downs.”

A team of trained and enthusiastic volunteers, supported by ‘Oral History’ experts will carry out informal and relaxed interviews at times and places convenient for the person being interviewed. All thoughts, memories or family history about woodland in the project area are wanted including:

  • traditional woodland or woodworking skills;
  • farming practices in or around the woodland;
  • forestry skills or management, either now or in the past;
  • stories or memories related to industry that took place in the forest or woodland;
  • memories of how the local woodland has changed over time;
  • ways that the South Down woodland has been used for recreation, sport or relaxation in the past; and
  • changes to communication and energy throughout the woodland and forest, i.e., railways; post offices; tram lines; electricity pylons, solar, wind and oil energy; drove ways and other woodland trails and track ways.

This is a unique opportunity to help unlock the secrets held beneath these ancient woods. There are a few archive aerial photographs of this area capturing a tantalising glimpse of features revealed by felling during WWII, but there is so much unknown about the history of the people who’ve lived here from 6,000-years-ago to today.

Using the same LiDAR airborne laser technology that last year revealed the remains of a huge city at Ankor Watt in Cambodia the project team have created a 3D map showing thousands of features hidden under trees and undergrowth. Local archaeologists and community groups have spent the winter going out to investigate these sites further.

Anne Bone, Cultural Heritage Lead at South Downs National Park Authority:

“We’re already starting uncover locally and nationally important archaeology. It’s exciting to see the past uses of the landscape revealed – for example mile after mile of prehistoric fields, which have survived for more than 3,000 years.”

To request an information pack about the project and giving interviews please email: highwoods@southdowns.gov.uk

Find out more about the Secrets of the High Woods project

The three-year project, led by the SDNPA, in partnership with Chichester District Council and supported by West Sussex and Hampshire County Councils has been made possible thanks to a £661,800 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.