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Benches Project Update

As you know, we are working to improve bench provision along the whole South Downs Way (SDW) because this was highlighted by members as being something that was sorely lacking. This Benches Project Update brings you the progress this project has made the past few months. The location shown in the photograph below is the potential site for one of our benches along the SDW. More will be revealed in an article in the September issue of The Downsman but we think many of you will recognise the spot.

Progress on finding sites was very much curtailed by the pandemic, as it was not possible to travel far to look for them but the good news is, that we now have permission for six benches with the first being already installed above Saddlescombe Farm on National Trust land.  We have three potential further sites identified, where I am working to contact owners and gain permission.  If all of these come through, we will have the entire length of the SDW from Winchester to Ditchling with bench provision.

When I started this project, I had no idea of the complexities that it would entail and it has been a steep learning curve. Firstly, finding sites at roughly five miles apart along the South Downs Way which are suitable, has been quite a challenge; we are trying to get a nice view in each case and the path has to be wide enough to comply with access regulations of the relevant District Council. On many occasions, a site that at first seemed ideal, has turned out to be too close to archaeological remains or have a landowner who will not give permission, etc.

Next, there is the task of tracking down the landowner, which surprisingly has proved to be a real detective job in some cases and several times I have been led to contact the wrong person.  Some parcels of land are not registered with the Land Registry, as they have not changed hands since its inception.  I have been working with the SDNP, their Rangers and the National Trust but also contacting Parish Councils and following up all sorts of other leads.

Another hold up has been the sourcing of sustainable supplies of English oak, which is in very short supply and this has led to delays in production. Chris Bain, our chain saw sculptor, has three more benches under commission at present and will hopefully track down the wood for them soon.  Then of course, the matters of insurance indemnity and health and safety have arisen. All new things for me to take on board.

The great news of this Benches Project Update is, that so far two benches have been sponsored by members, which is a tremendous boost to our funds for the project.  Sponsors of a whole bench can choose the hidden creature or plant native to the Downs, which is carved on them.  So far, we have an Adonis Blue butterfly at Saddlescombe and the two sponsored benches will have a milk thistle and two rambling roses. Both choices have sentimental significance to the sponsor, as we are not going to use commemorative plaques.

If any members have contacts for sourcing sustainable English Oak, please contact us using the button above and send us suggestions of sites for benches between Ditchling and Eastbourne for phase two!

Caroline Douglas,

Aerial Photo by Brian Davies