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Benches Project Latest

Seven Benches

Our Benches project has installed seven benches along the South Downs Way! As members will know, we have now been running this project for several years. In fact, the decision to go ahead was made shortly before the pandemic. With not much else to do during the initial lockdown, my husband Tony and I set out to find possible locations starting from the Winchester end of the South Downs Way (SDW).

chanctonbury friends of the south downs
Chanctonbury Ring / photo by Andrew Lovett

It didn’t take too long to establish possible sites for the first half of the track, but I had no idea how long it would take to get to final installations! The process of finding landowners and gaining their agreement was far more complex than I had imagined. The continuing pandemic and changes to the economic climate sent wood prices soaring and English Oak became hard to source.

Benches Project Latest with Nathan Blatherwick

Unfortunately, we also had a lot of difficulties with our original supplier, which gave me quite a few sleepless nights. Eventually, we parted company. Chris Steibelt, one of our Trustees at the time, noticed some wood carving in the playground at Easebourne and gave me the name of the maker. So, a new and much more fruitful relationship with Nathan Blatherwick began and, with his enthusiasm and skill, we have made real progress.

Nathan has been an arboriculturist for 30 years. His grandfather was of Cree Indian descent and worked as a forester in Canada. Old black and white photos of him captured Nathan’s imagination as a child and he loved nature and trees. After a while, he began carving for friends and family and realised it was a very therapeutic connection to life for him. He has not stopped since. His enthusiasm has made it a real pleasure to work with him.

benches project latest friends of the south downs
Nathan with our walking crew at Tegleaze

Benches Project Latest: We now have benches in position at Gander Down, Salt Hill, Harting Down, Tegleaze, Chanctonbury, Saddlescombe and Ditchling Beacon, with only a site near Amberley pending.  Wildlife carvings feature on the benches. For you to look out for are: a hare, an owl, a skylark, a fox, a robin, a butterfly and a thistle. Some have been chosen by the landowners and the National Trust Rangers involved in the project, and some by sponsors of the benches.

Steve Ankers

Of special importance to the Trustees and staff of FSD is the Chanctonbury bench. The robin carved on it was chosen by Margaret and Mairi Ankers in memory of Steve Ankers, a much-loved husband and father, who was a person dear to us all.  Steve joined the Society as our Policy Officer, mainly involved with planning matters, after retiring from a career in planning in Manchester.

Steve Ankers

He was a great person to work with and we all appreciated his calm professional ways and great sense of humour. He contributed so much to the running of the Society and was very supportive of me personally in becoming a Trustee.  He is still very much missed, and we are very pleased to have a memorial to him in such a lovely setting.  Steve was also an accomplished and entertaining writer. His book, Northern Soles, describing a 200-mile coast to coast walk from the Mersey to the Humber that he undertook, has many 5-star reviews on Amazon.

The bench at Tegleaze features a fox which was chosen by me. It is sited next to the Tegleaze Post which commemorates the Cowdray Hunt. The original 1972 (now replaced) post was put up to mark the Hunt’s 50th anniversary.  It was just too tempting, so I asked Nathan to carve ‘the one that got away’. It’s a little fox peering out to see if the coast is clear. It’s not a political statement; just a bit of fun that I hope members will appreciate.

Caroline Douglas

Trustee

The one that got away
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Stepping Out Smart by Avoiding Ticks

As the weather warms up, many of us look forward to spending more time walking and hiking on trails and in parks. However, a tiny menace awaits—Ixodes Ricinus, the blacklegged tick. Also known as the Deer Tick, these crafty parasites cling to vegetation waiting to latch onto passing animals or people, looking for a meal of blood. While going unnoticed, they can transmit Lyme disease, an illness you’ll want to avoid. Let’s look into stepping out smart by avoiding ticks. Protect yourself with some tick smarts before heading out on your next walk.

stepping out smart by avoiding ticks

Ticks and Lyme Disease

Blacklegged ticks in their nymph stage are most likely to pass on Lyme. These poppy seed-sized insects are efficient transmitters of the corkscrew-shaped Lyme bacterium. Infected ticks secrete the bacteria into the skin when they insert their feeding tube.

What Are the Symptoms?

If a tick infected with the Lyme bacterium has fed on you, a rash might emerge on your skin around the bite within three to 30 days. The infamous ‘bullseye’ circular rash, called erythema migrans, appears in about 70-80% of infected people. Flu-like symptoms like fever, headache, stiff neck, swollen lymph nodes, and fatigue often accompany the rash.

Without treatment, more severe joint swelling and pain, heart palpitations, and neurological issues involving numbness, paralysis, and memory problems can occur. See a doctor right away if you experience any of these warning signs of Lyme after spending time outdoors. Prescription antibiotics at an early stage can treat the infection effectively.

When walkers return from wooded areas or fields with tall grass, they must perform thorough tick checks over every inch of exposed skin. Look carefully in warm folds around armpits, the groin, back of knees, scalp, and ears. Tiny young ticks are easy to miss.

Stepping Out Smart by Avoiding Ticks

The best defence to avoid close encounters with these disease-carrying freeloaders is to minimise exposure of unprotected skin by wearing trousers and long-sleeved shirts. Stick to trails and avoid sitting on logs or in tall grass. Apply a DEET repellent on exposed areas of skin. After returning from a walk in an infested area, immediately put clothes in the tumble dryer on high heat to kill stragglers. Check your body closely and document any tick finds. Prompt removal within 24 hours using pointy tweezers can stop disease transmission. If you remove a tick that has bitten you it can also be a good idea to bag in and put it in the freezer for later examination by the NHS if Lyme symptoms appear.

Ticks may be small, but the illnesses they can transmit pack a serious punch. With vigilance, preventative measures, and quick tick removal, walkers can continue to roam the landscapes they enjoy—without unwelcome fellow travellers tagging along.

Ian Lancaster, Walks & Strolls Coordinator

Follow this link to learn about tick removal

Follow this link to the NHS Lyme Disease information page

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Responsible Dog Walking

The South Downs National Park encourages responsible dog walking to help farmers and wildlife. Take the lead and keep those paws on the path! That’s the call to action to dogwalkers from the South Downs National Park Authority as ground-nesting bird and lambing season starts this March.

With dog ownership at an all-time high post-pandemic, the National Park is re-energising its “Take The Lead” campaign, which encourages responsible dog walking with simple actions, such as keeping canines on leads around livestock and bagging and binning dog poo. Since the National Park Authority came into being in 2011, the number of dogs in the UK has significantly increased – from around 8m in 2011 to around 13m today – meaning it’s more important than ever to follow some simple guidelines when walking your dog in the countryside.

Responsible Dog Walking

The four messages for Take The Lead are:

  • Keep dogs on a lead near livestock
  • Bag and bin your poo, any public bin will do
  • Stick to the path. Protect ground-nesting birds by sticking to the paths, especially between 1 March and 15 September during the breeding season.
  • Do not enter military training areas when the red flags are flying

To mark the campaign, the National Park is inviting dogwalkers to enjoy the stunning views and snap a picture of their pooch on the lead and sticking to the path in the South Downs. The competition starts on 15 March and runs through the Easter Holidays and Discover National Parks Fortnight, finishing on 14 April. The prize for the best image will be an amazing dog hamper full of tasty treats for your four-legged friend and a “poop scoop” Dicky Bag – an award-winning neoprene bag that’s lightweight, airtight, washable and leak proof to store your dog poo bags until you find a suitable bin.

To enter simply post a picture with #PawsOnThePath and #TaketheLead on Instagram or facebook. Dr Marc Abraham OBE, or ‘Marc the Vet’ as he’s usually known, a multi-award-winning veterinary surgeon, author, broadcaster, and animal welfare campaigner, will be judging the entries.

Unfortunately there have been several reported incidents of sheep worrying in the South Downs over the past couple of years and statistics from the National Sheep Association show that 70% of UK sheep farmers have experienced a sheep worrying attack in the past 12 months. It’s not only young lambs that are are risk from being chased by dogs, pregnant ewes can abort their unborn lambs if scared by dogs. For any farmer it’s devastating emotionally and financially to discover any of their flock has been injured, or worse, killed, in a dog attack.

Sticking to the paths is particularly important at this time of year as many birds, such as nightjar and curlew, lay their eggs directly on the ground and can easily be disturbed by a curious canine. Mothers will often abandon a nest and her eggs if disturbed.

Andy Gattiker, who leads on access for the National Park Authority, said: “Our focus at the National Park is on education and engagement when it comes to dogwalking.

“Responsible dog walking is a great way for people to get out, get fit and experience the National Park. However, we also understand that having dogs off leads can potentially have a devastating impact on farmers, as well as fragile wildlife-rich habitats.

“The aim of our ‘Take The Lead’ campaign is to help everyone, including dog walkers, to have an enjoyable and safe experience in the National Park.”

One of the “myths” that often arises at the National Park’s engagement events is that dog poo enriches the soil and helps plants and animals.

Andy said: “Many of the habitats in the National Park, such as chalk grassland and heathland, have actually developed over thousands of years because of soil that is low in nutrients. This gives the amazing array of specialist species that we see today. Introducing dog poo can change this soil profile and interrupt these fragile ecosystems. It’s also very unsightly when you’re trying to enjoy this beautiful landscape and carries the risk of serious bacterial infection to humans.”

Sussex-based vet, animal welfare campaigner, and South Downs enthusiast Dr Marc Abraham OBE said: “Once again it’s a huge honour to judge the South Downs National Park’s #TakeTheLead and #PawsOnThePath photo competition. Dog ownership is at an all-time high post-Covid, so it’s never been more important to make sure our four-legged friends are kept under control at all times, which means sticking to the paths during ground-nesting bird and lambing season, as well as picking up their poop and disposing of it safely and responsibly, plus highlighting a new online ‘toolkit’ for communities looking to set up their own dog ambassador schemes.”

Dr Marc Abraham OBE

If you’re looking to raise awareness in your local area about responsible dog ownership you may want to think about setting up a dog ambassador scheme. Having regular dog walkers in your area talking to other dog walkers can be a great way of helping educate people about how they can ensure they have a fun and safe visit to the countryside with their pooch. The National Park has created an online toolkit, full of useful information on setting up a dog ambassador scheme, and it can be seen here www.southdowns.gov.uk/take-the-lead/dog-ambassadors-set-up-your-own-scheme.

For more information on Take The Lead visit www.southdowns.gov.uk/take-the-lead/

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Rother Valley Railway

Between Petersfield and Midhurst there is only one section of public footpath along the former track bed of the Rother Valley Railway, but there are several places where paths cross it.

The Friends of Rother Valley Way (FoRVW) is a community group of local individuals and organisations who have come together to work alongside Shortcut (Sussex Hampshire Off-Road Track – reg. charity established 2012) to establish a multi-user pathway between Petersfield and Midhurst, following, as much as possible, the route of the former railway. The FoRVW Steering Committee was formed in 2017, bringing together statutory authorities such as South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA), West Sussex County Council (WSCC) and Hampshire County Council (HCC) together with groups including Sustrans & Midhurst Area Cycling (MAC).

History of the Rother Valley Way

The Downs are an imposing natural barrier to the south of our area, so it is no surprise that for centuries local people preferred to travel and trade along the flat, sandy soils of the Rother, between Petersfield and Pulborough rather than up and over the steep, scarp slope.

If you know where to look, the history of this vital communications corridor is still visible today, providing a vivid picture of centuries gone by. There are the pubs that were once coaching inns; the remains of toll houses and turnpike gates, constructed to gather revenue; a plaque on a river bridge warning drivers of steam engines against seeking water; as well as the many bridges and cuttings of the former railway that once ran through the valley.

Between Petersfield and Midhurst there is only one section of public footpath along the former track bed of the Rother Valley Railway, but there are several places where paths cross it. Despite having walked these routes many times, on each occasion I find myself wondering what could have been. You only need look as far as the Meon Valley Trail or Centurion Way between Midhurst and Chichester to see what a wonderful active travel and leisure facility former railway lines can provide.  Back in the 1960s a local paper headline read, ‘Branch Rail Line to Be Torn Up – No future plans, says Railway Authority, but open to “bright ideas”’. Clearly everyone was out of bright ideas back then.

Disappointed by what could have been, I have been busying myself of late researching what was. I have discovered that the Rother Valley Railway was described as ‘among the most beautiful lines in England’. Opening in 1864, this beauty, however, didn’t prove a big enough pull, and the line was eventually closed to passengers in the 1950s long before Beeching’s axe fell a decade later. Leading up to the war, the line appears to have been quite well used and even profitable, but it unfortunately never recovered from the arrival of buses and lorries afterwards. Paradoxically, in the weeks leading up to the line’s closure to passengers in 1955 thousands of people turned up to ride the 9 ¼ mile journey. Perhaps you were one of them.

Petersfield resident, Gordon Churchill, has vivid memories of these last days as his father was a signalman at the station. It appears it was an almost party-like atmosphere along the line with everyone desperate to have a ride, and well-wishers waving as the trains went by. Knowing many of the engine drivers through his father, Gordon was lucky enough to get rides on the engine footplate to Midhurst and sometimes as far as Pulborough.

Listening to stories about the railway from different local people, it seems the local area might have been quite different without the Rother Valley Railway. On the line, Nyewood station was known as ‘Rogate for South Harting’ as the tiny hamlet barely existed on the map. The reason we know of Nyewood today is largely due to an old brick works. This existed long before the arrival of the railway, but it had been losing money. In the late 1800s a new owner saw the opportunity the railway provided to turn the business around. He moved the yard alongside the line, where it had its own siding, and installed more modern facilities. By the early 1900s the works was producing 100,000 bricks a day, employed 60 men, had acquired an international reputation, and given rise to two pubs in the village. If only we could find similar stimuli for economic growth (read ‘to keep pubs going’) in our rural communities today.

Effects of the Rother Valley Railway on Farming Communities

At first glance it would seem the railway had little effect on farming communities, simply steaming on past, but there you would be wrong. Not only did it provide jobs for lengthsmen, who were as vital then as today’s countryside rangers when it came to managing the flora and fauna along the line, but the railway was also the ‘common carrier’. This meant it was obliged to transport anything and everything. This included whole farms. The mind boggles at this concept today, but believe it or not, some of our local farming families moved to this area from further afield by putting their livestock on the train and then driving the animals the final few miles from the station.

Gordon also remembers seeing wagons full of antlers in the Petersfield goods yard, possibly from the annual cull at Petworth. One other big plus of the railway was that it transported polo ponies across to Cowdray. Just imagine, no enormous horse lorries navigating the bends and narrow bridge around Trotton. It’s almost worth turning back the clock for that.

One of the most endearing tales I heard about the Rother Valley Way was its contribution to local weather forecasting. It was said that if you were in Elsted and heard the whistle on steam trains at Buriton tunnel on the main line, rain was imminent but hearing the whistle on branch line trains was a harbinger of the weather set fair. At first, I thought this an apocryphal tale, but when you consider the role wind plays in carrying sound it could be as accurate a forecaster of the weather as any of the tech we use today. Perhaps, when Petersfield recruits its new town crier their audition should include whistle blowing from various parts of the town, so they can provide an up-to-date weather forecast as well as the news!

Malinka van der Gaauw

Walks Leader

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The Richard Reed Award

The second of the Centenary prizes for academic work at Brighton University was awarded Thursday 5 October 2023 to Dom Jarvis, a Geography student, just starting his third and final year. Chairman David Sawyer and Paul Wilkinson were at Brighton University to present the Richard Reed Award, a newly created award, for most improved performance by a BSc/BA student in the department of Geography, Earth and Environment, based on results over 1st and 2nd years. The presentation took place in front of the final year class.  

The Richard Reed Award Friends of the South Downs

The Richard Reed Award is named after the Friends of the South Downs longest standing member who was not only Chairman three times but served the Society as a Trustee for an astonishing 59 years. The award is for the sum of £500 for the most improved performance by a BSc/BA student within Geography and Environmental Sciences/Management subjects. It is based on their academic results over their 1st & 2nd years. 

This is the inaugural year for the Richard Reed Award supported by the Friends of the South Downs.  

Dom Jarvis (centre) was presented with the award by Paul Wilkinson (right) Membership & Marketing Committee Chair for Friends of the South Downs and Dr Matthew Brolly (left), Principal Lecturer in Geography/Environmental Science.  

Dom is here to tell us about himself:

FSD: Tell us where you grew up, Dom.

DJ: I grew up in a town called Upminster in Essex.

FSD: What made you realise you wanted to study geography?

DJ: Firstly, I have to thank my secondary school Geography teachers, they really sparked my interest in the subject and managed to teach in a very engaging and fun way. Throughout school, Geography was always my favourite subject so that, combined with my love for beautiful landscapes, it was a no brainer. 

FSD: Why did you decide on Brighton Uni?

DJ: I decided on Brighton because of its diversity. Not sure if you have ever been to Essex but it has a stereotype and it is pretty accurate! Brighton has all different types of streets, shops and people so that was the primary pull factor. Essex is all the same old, same old…

FSD: You’ve been surrounded by the South Downs landscape for your time at Uni. What is your relationship with the Downs?

DJ: Having stayed in Varley Park accommodations for my first year of studies, Stanmer park was right across the road (literally) so that was my go-to green space for walks. I loved it. It has the perfect mix of open green space and dense forest to get lost in and it was great for my mental health when settling into university! I have also cycled to Devils Dyke with my friend and after some pretty serious incline, it was all worth it for the view! Cycling along the coastline also provides a great sense of relief with the views and salty wind hitting your face.

Richard Reed

We also caught up with Richard Reed.

FSD: Would you like to say anything about the recently awarded Richard Reed award?

RR: I was delighted to learn that Dom Jarvis had won the prize for the most improved performance.  The study of geography is an ideal way to appreciate the wonders of the world, not least our own South Downs.  I look forward to the Friends of the South Downs working closely with Brighton University to understand better our glorious landscape.

The Awards

The University awards were part of a spending programme for the Friends of the South Downs’ Centenary Year. The Trustees agreed a major programme of spending totalling over £100,000 in this year to benefit the Downs in the short term and the long term. The Friends can spend this money because they are fortunate to have recently received two substantial legacies.

You can help us make these legacies go even farther by supporting us. Consider joining us as a member, donating to our cause today or remembering us by creating a legacy.

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Triumphs in Conservation

When an individual becomes 100 years old, they receive a birthday card from the King.  But what happens when an organisation reaches that milestone?  Well, in the case of our very own Friends of the South Downs, the answer is that its Centenary is celebrated by the publication of a book by Richard Reed. The author is uniquely qualified for such a task, given he has been Chair on three occasions, and a Trustee for an astonishing 59 years.  So not only does he write well, but also, he himself has been a significant part of the story of triumphs in conservation. The book is available here.

Friends of the south downs triumphs in conservation
A Centenary History of the Friends of the South Downs is available on our online shop

A Concise Account of a Century

The book is not a long one, indeed, in the preface, Reed describes it as a ‘much shorter account’ than two previous (unpublished) histories of the FSD. However, brevity does not stop the author from describing all the key events in its hundred years. Nor does it stop him including many intriguing photographs.  I particularly liked one of Captain Irvine Bately striding though a field of newly-cut hay wearing his very best 1920s walking gear.

Of course, any campaigning charity can only make change happen because of the leadership and determination of what we now call ‘social activists’, and the first example Reed gives was of our founder Robert Thurston Hopkins and his brother-in-law, the previously mentioned Irvine Bately. Although it was a very different world in which these two gentlemen lived, their action in 1923 created the then Society of Sussex Downsmen to resist untrammeled development across the unique landscape of the South Downs.

Reed does not duck difficult periods in the Friends’ history. The early optimism of 1923 was followed two years later by a membership fall of more than half. The threat of invasion in the Second World War resulted in construction of pill boxes and anti-tank obstacles all across the high ridges of the Downs.  In the 1940s there were disagreements with the National Trust over wire fencing for stock grazing. And, most surprisingly, the organisation was explicitly against the growing campaign in the 1980s to establish a National Park covering the South Downs.  

Triumphs in Conservation

However, Richard Reed’s book makes clear that the other side of the balance sheet was full of many successes. The battle in 1926 to protect the Seven Sisters from massive housing development triggered a major crowd-funding appeal, resulting in purchase of the contested swath of Downland at Crowlink.  After the War, the Society threw itself into speeding the work of restoring the Downs, and to working with other walking groups to re-establish and map rights of way and other footpaths.

The Society’s campaigning on numerous planning issues contributed to publicising the need for active Downland conservation. In 1966, South Downs became an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, 1968 saw the Seven Sisters become a Country Park, and in 1972, the South Downs Way was opened. By 2000, the Society had become an advocate for a National Park, and successfully lobbied for the Western Weald to be included when it was created in 2009.

Reed concludes by describing the FSD’s increasing emphasis in recent years on encouraging access to the South Downs, especially by young people, in addition to its continuing conservation work.

This book is a great read (pardon the pun) and is yet another service Richard Reed has given to the FSD.  A story of triumphs in conservation. There could not be a better Christmas present for any member to give to their friends or family.

Paul Wilkinson, Trustee

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The Robert Thurston-Hopkins Award

The first of our Centenary prizes for academic work at Brighton University was awarded at the main University-wide graduation ceremony on Friday 28 July 2023 at the Brighton Centre. The Robert Thurston-Hopkins award for the highest achieving BSc/BA student in the Department of Geography, Earth & Environment, was awarded to Elizabeth-Jane Pallett (Lizzie).

Lizzie Pallet

Lizzie also won the BSc Environmental Sciences Prize. In her studies, she specialised in extinct volcanoes in Wales.  She plans to use our £500 prize to help fund her spending next year in Japan, learning the language.  She’ll follow that by studying for an MSc in Japan the following year, not surprisingly specialising in active volcanoes in that country.   

David Green and Paul Wilkinson, accompanied by Joanna Thurston Hopkins (granddaughter of the Society’s founder), attended the graduation ceremony.

The Robert Thurston-Hopkins award
David Green, Dr Kirsty Smallbone (Dean of the School of Applied Sciences at Brighton Uni), Lizzie Pallett (winner of the Robert Thurston Hopkins award), Joanna Thurston Hopkins, Paul Wilkinson

Lizzie told us a bit about herself:

FSD: Where did you grow up?

Lizzie: I grew up in North Cornwall, in a little village in a valley, and I was always surrounded by nature throughout my childhood. I loved being in the countryside, but it was hard to find work here that I was truly passionate about.

FSD: What made you realise you wanted to study geology?

Lizzie: I had always been interested in Japan for the language and culture, and in 2020 just before COVID struck, I took a six-week trip out there by myself to learn the language. I had never felt like I belonged somewhere more, being surrounded by the amazing mountains in such a geologically fascinating part of the world, in addition to the humble and hard-working citizens there. After having to return home in April just as COVID was hitting and I had to evacuate the country, I knew I had to go to university so I could return to Japan qualified to live and work there. I applied to the only university I wanted to study at – Brighton!

FSD: Why did you decide on Brighton Uni?

Lizzie: I had fond memories visiting Brighton as a child with my family, and I knew that coming from the countryside I would enjoy what Brighton has to offer – the beautiful Downs and the chalk cliffs, and the cosy coastal city that feels familiar without being too daunting (like London for example!) I knew I wanted to study something environmental after I had made a speech at a local council meeting to support renewable energy projects in our local area, as I remember feeling really passionate about it and that I might make a difference, but it wasn’t until I started my BSc Environmental Sciences course that I became fascinated with geology – particularly igneous rocks and volcanoes. So, though geology wasn’t a huge focus of my course, I decided to write my dissertation on the subject so that I could find out more. Despite the huge challenge it was to pursue an unknown subject as a year-long independent project (with the assistance of my fab supervisors Dr Laura Evenstar and Dr Jake Ciborowski), I was still motivated to finish it to the best of my ability. I knew I was passionate about the subject! I really hope to be able to start a career in geology in Japan (or Iceland – another very geologically fascinating country). I will be leaving to study Japanese in Hokkaido for three months from September and job hunting while I’m there.

FSD: You were surrounded by the South Downs landscape for much of your Uni life. What is your relationship with the Downs?

Lizzie: Throughout my university experience, I frequently took hikes into the Downs to wind down from studying and escape the city life – even lovely Brighton could be a bit overwhelming to a country girl like me. So, it was a great comfort to be able to get away from the traffic and energy of the city and traverse the rolling hills of the Downs. Visiting Devils Dyke, Ditchling Beacon and taking long late-night hikes to the Chattri Memorial are all great memories I have with the Downs, and I feel very lucky to have been able to study my degree amidst such a beautiful landscape.

Elizabeth-Jane Pallett: “Thank you so much for the Robert Thurston-Hopkins award. I am honestly blown away. I am so humbled to receive such a generous donation and I plan to put it to good use! Whilst I worked my utmost hardest to do my best at university, I couldn’t have imagined that I would be able to win such an award and I am so grateful for the recognition of my efforts and the money that will support me to achieve my goals. In September, I will be travelling to Japan for a three-month language course in Hokkaido to improve my Japanese skills so I can one day become a volcanologist in Japan – hopefully! This award will be so helpful in getting me one step closer to that goal. Thank you so much for your kindness and generosity, it means so much!”

Joanna Thurston-Hopkins:I was very pleased to see my grandfather’s name go on in the form of the Friends of the South Downs Robert Thurston-Hopkins award, with Elizabeth-Jane Pallett as the inaugural winner. She is a very worthy recipient, who is a credit to herself and her university. The event had an extra, rather unexpected, meaning for me personally, as not only did my father the Photographer (Godfrey) Thurston Hopkins go to Art school here in the 1920’s, but there was a strange moment when I looked out across the multitude of recipients of Doctorates, one of whom, (until she died in 2021) had been my mother, the Photojournalist Grace Robertson. Somehow, I almost expected to see her face amongst the sea of robes!  Thank you very much for giving me the chance to give back and connect with a part of my family history.”

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Your Opinion Matters

Friends of the South Downs was established 100 years ago by ordinary people taking action to protect our precious Downland landscape. Over the past 100 years, our charity’s growth and the achievement of National Park status has been down to the continued involvement of people who care. Now, as we make plans for the next 100 years, we are keen to discover your views on our charity and the issues that you feel most deserve our attention going forward. Your opinion matters to us.  We value your contribution to our future planning and look forward to sharing the results with you in future.

The Friends of the South Downs is owned and run by its members and there are many ways in which you can help. We have many volunteering opportunities for people of all ages, abilities, skills and fitness levels. If you are able to give up some of your time to help us, you’ll meet many interesting and sociable people who really care and work hard to help protect the landscape and heritage of the South Downs.

We are almost totally reliant on our volunteers in helping us achieve our aims and objectives so anyone offering to become a volunteer is always made very welcome.

Here is an example of some of the typical activities you can help us with:

Walks & Strolls Leaders

If you have local knowledge of the South Downs and are good at organising events you can help research our annual programme and lead one or a few of our over 200 walks and strolls.

Trustees / Council Members

If you want to be part of setting the strategic direction of the Society and making sure that its aims are achieved then you would be welcome as a Council member. Your opinion matters. Council meets four times a year but in addition, most members are active in other areas of the Society’s work.

District Officers

Help us keep an eye on and comment on planning applications in your own locality.

Get in touch today!

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Not Just a Walking Club

I’ll come clean.  My enthusiasm for country walking is what caused me to join the Friends of the South Downs in the first place.  Yes, I was at that stage vaguely aware of the other work we do around the broader issue of conservation but it was definitely the extensive programme of walks and strolls which drew me in.  And, on joining, I quickly learned that the connection between the FSD and putting one boot in front of another on the South Downs was present at the very beginning of the organization, with the legendary walk near Peacehaven in 1923 undertaken by Robert Thurston Hopkins and Capt. Irvine Bately. But it’s not just a walking club.

Not just a walking club east meon george stride
East Meon Stroll / photo by George Stride

In my defence, starting from that narrow base, my increasing involvement with the Friends did result in me better understanding the range and scale of the work undertaken by us to make a reality of our objective of being ‘the only membership organization dedicated to protecting the South Downs’.  But, goodness, since I am a trustee who has just recently been re-elected, it would be more than somewhat embarrassing if I had not significantly improved on my initial ignorance.

However, knowledge sometimes isn’t sufficient to drive home a key realization; it needs to be reinforced by personal experience.  For me, this happened very specifically at Truleigh Hill YHA, just north of Shoreham-on-Sea, in May 2023.  On that day I was privileged to be present at a field trip made by schoolchildren from Herons Dale special needs primary school, and arranged by So Sussex, a company specializing in outdoor educational experiences on the South Downs. 

It was very humbling to observe the excitement and stimulation experienced by the kids, and to understand that this could not have been achieved inside a classroom.  Humbling also to know that this event, and other such trips in So Sussex’s ‘Explorers of the South Downs’ project, would not have happened without funding from the Friends, made possible by a recent legacy left to us.

One of the major themes in our Centenary celebrations is education and understanding, since the FSD believes that one of the key ways we can safeguard the South Downs in the future is to encourage the interests of children and young people.  As a result, Explorers of the South Downs is just one of a number of similarly themed projects we are supporting.

So not just a walking club!  

The Friends of the South Downs is owned and run by its members and there are many ways in which you can help.

We have many volunteering opportunities for people of all ages, abilities, skills and fitness levels; so, if you are able to give up some of your time to help us, you’ll meet many interesting and sociable people who really care and work hard to help protect the landscape and heritage of the South Downs.

We are almost totally reliant on our volunteers in helping us achieve our aims and objectives so anyone offering to become a volunteer is always made very welcome. Here are some of the typical activities you can help us with.

Paul Wilkinson

Trustee

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The Pump Barn

Seven Sisters Country Park was transferred from East Sussex County Council to the stewardship of the SDNPA in 2020 and remains in public ownership. Since then, several improvements have been made including a visitors centre at Exceat, a food outlet, offices and toilets. But the authority, due to financial constraints, was unable to fund the refurbishment of the largest structure on the site of the visitors centre, the Pump Barn, a magnificent 18th century building.

Seven Sister Pump Barn
Photo by Ian Lancaster

Friends of the South Downs Trustees agreed at the end of 2022 to provide £60,000 to refurbish the Pump Barn. The centre has up to 750,000 visitors each year who visit the Seven Sisters Country Park and walk the South Downs Way. The Pump Barn is structurally sound, has facilities for local businesses, meetings, presentations and other activities. These are the facilities that we are funding, and will include a section dedicated to the Friends of the South Downs.

Trevor Beattie, Chief Executive of the South Downs National Park Authority, said: “Seven Sisters Country Park offers some of the most stunning views in the world but it could be so much more.

“We would like to make it a national centre for biodiversity, conservation and climate change, telling the story of this extraordinary landscape to a wide audience and using it to test out new approaches to the national challenge of climate change.”

Friends of the South Downs dedicated the newly refurbished Pump Barn on Monday 25 September 2023 with Alistair Appleton, who held an inspirational talk at the facility.

Generous legacies have enabled the Society over the years to provide financial support to projects it feels worthwhile. To the National Trust for Harting Downs and Devils Dyke, as well as to helping provide a bunkhouse at Gumber Farm, Slindon. Supporting East Sussex County Council towards converting the barn at Foxhole Farm to a Bunkhouse and improving the car park at High and Over, with Disabled access to the nearest viewing point. Small donations have also been made to projects such as the Jack and Jill Mills at Clayton, St Mary’s Church, Stoughton, the Sussex Rights of Way Group and others.

If you would like to consider remembering us in your Will, please see our Legacy Giving page.

Pump Barn photos by Graham Stockley