Posted on Leave a comment

Woodcraft Courses for Young People

Trainees on the Woodcraft Course

With the help of money from our Ramblers Holidays Charitable Trust grant the South Downs Society has been able to set up a woodland experience course for 20 teenagers from a Gosport pupil referral unit and a Havant secondary school.  Some were enjoying woodland activities for the first time.

They began by learning to recognise the usefulness of a selection of woodland plants and trees and how our ancestors made use of these.  Going on to appreciate how birch and chestnut can be carved into useful tools and learning how to use a saw and knife safely, they had the opportunity of carving their own utensils. These were then used to experiment with cooking over a primitive fire. (Much of the food had a mixed reception until it came to their own bacon and sausages!)  While this was happening they listened to stories about the history of the woodland and in particular its role prior to the D-Day landings.

These are challenging 15 and 16 year olds but do well when fully engaged in such practical activities in the open air. It is interesting to see how they find how best to work together in groups, drawing upon their individual skills and how they begin to develop an affinity for the woodland area that they are working in. At the end of it all they broke camp, extinguished the fires, cleared the site and carefully removed any litter without being asked to.

Thank you to Ramblers Holiday Charitable Trust for financing the course, Jonathon Huet of Walk with Trees for running it, the Friends of Hollybank for lending us their wood and Motiv8, Gosport  with Park Community School, Havant for giving the young people the opportunity to take part.

Posted on Leave a comment

Join us for our “Lord of the Rings” family stroll on Sunday 2 June

Why don’t you join us on Sunday 2 June for  a fabulous 4 mile “Lord of the Rings” family stroll?

We will be walking up to and around Cissbury Ring to find out about Stone Age miners and factory workers, Iron Age fighting farmers and downland wildlife with a bit of treasure hunting (geo-caching) thrown in.  Bring a GPS if you have one.

Note that it is a stiff climb up to the Ring and dogs may have to be on a lead if livestock are present.

We meet at Storrington Rise Car Park at on the junction of Storrington Rise and Long Meadow Findon Valley BN14 0HT or OS Explorer 121/128077 nearest bust stop some 400 metres at A24 Findon Road/May Tree Avenue.

We depart at 1:30pm and should be completed around 4:30pm.

Posted on Leave a comment

A Walk in the Park

The annual South Downs Way walk was first organised by West Sussex County Council in 1980 as a one-off event to celebrate an anniversary of the Ramblers. Today, 34 years later, the event is as popular as ever. Although, naturally, much has changed – the trail is 20 miles longer now extending all the way to Winchester,  and runs through the heart of Britain’s newest National Park – the only national trail contained within its own park boundaries.

South Downs Way Walkers 2012

We are delighted that the current organisers of this annual walk – Footprints of Sussex – have invited the South Downs Society to join them in walking the trail this year. Members of the Society can join the walk from 7th to 15th June, and receive a 10% discount simply by quoting their Society membership number.

Each day walkers are picked up by coach from one of four pick-up points, Shoreham, Worthing, Arundel or Chichester, and taken to the start of that day’s walk. Coaches depart regularly through the afternoon to return people to these points. Local farms, churches, pubs and an ice cream maker join in, providing refreshments along the way – a truly community event.

There are places still available at all the pick-up points; simply log in to and join in the fun.


Posted on Leave a comment

Planning for the Future, Building on the present

South Downs Society’s Council has approved a new strategic plan for 2013-16 and an associated action plan for 2013, setting out what we hope to achieve in the current year. A fresh action plan will be produced each autumn.

The strategic plan reflects the Society’s charitable purpose, namely, “The conservation and enhancement for the public benefit of the beauty and amenities of the South Downs in and within the vicinity of the South Downs National Park”. It seeks to build on the success of the Society over the years by focusing on two features which distinguish the Society from all other voluntary and many statutory bodies interested in the South Downs: firstly, the Society is concerned with the whole area of the National Park and its setting; and, secondly, its interest is holistic and is not restricted to particular features, such as landscape protection, nature conservation, access, cultural heritage or economic and social wellbeing: all aspects of the South Downs are of interest to the Society and we are the champion and advocate of the National Park.

Against this background, the strategic plan identifies three themes which will inform our work over the next three years:
• being recognised as the critical or challenging friend of the National Park Authority (NPA);
• developing an informed and distinctive voice; and
• establishing clear rules of engagement with the NPA.

These themes reflect the need for us to work closely and effectively with the NPA, while retaining our right to take our own, independent line on issues which affect the South Downs. This involves us in making sure that our engagement with the NPA, our comments on relevant planning and access issues, our responses to consultations on the National Park Management Plan and our participation in the work of the NPA is professional and well-informed. It also emphasises the need for us to speak with authority for the large and diverse group of people who love the South Downs, some of whom may not yet be engaged in our work, or even aware of our existence.

The first action plan, which is organised on the basis of the three strategic themes, sets out 27 new tasks to be achieved in 2013, in addition to the Society’s regular and continuing programme of walks, talks and events. The action plan, which builds on and does not replace, our existing, well-established programmes, aims to make the Society better known and to attract and retain new members, including younger members and people from a range of backgrounds. Responsibility for achieving the actions has been assigned to individual Council members and officers. At each meeting, Council will review progress against the targets in the action plan and seek to ensure that they are all achieved by the end of the year. The strategic plan and the action plan 2013 are available on the Society’s website. The public, interested organisations and members of the Society are encouraged to read these documents.

SDS Strategic Plan 2013 to 2016 – view document
SDS Action Plan 2013 – view document

Posted on Leave a comment

Celebratory Walks for the National Park’s 3rd Anniversary

The UK’s newest National Park will be three years old on Monday 1 April and the National Park Society – the South Downs Society – is celebrating with special walks throughout the region.

Robert Self, a Society spokesperson, said “For over sixty years, campaigners worked for the South Downs to be recognized as a National Park. Its outstanding landscape and network of historic pathways finally received the protection they deserved in 2010 and we will be celebrating this 3rd anniversary by enjoying the stunning spring scenery on three superb walks”.

Robert Self will be leading the celebration in Hampshire in conjunction with Owen Plunkett from the Ramblers: a 6 mile circular walk from the Sustainability Centre, East Meon. Meeting at 10 a.m. on Sunday 31st March, for a brief presentation on the work of the Centre and departing at 10.30 to walk along the South Downs Way (bring a picnic lunch) returning via the source of the River Meon around 2.30 p.m. Then follows the opportunity to hear presentations from SDNPA Board Member, Doug Jones and Robert Self. Tea and cakes available for purchase in the café.

Alternatively enjoy the stunning scenery on the West/East Sussex border and gather at Clayton Windmills Car Park (OS Explorer map reference 122/302134) by 9.15 a.m. on Sunday 31st March for a 10 mile circular walk taking in Stanmer Park, Westmeston, Ditchling and Keymer. Bring a picnic lunch or visit a nearby pub at the end which should be around 2 p.m.

Already have plans for the Easter weekend? Then on Sunday 7 April come to Butts Brow Car Park at Willingdon (OS Explorer map reference 123/580017) by 9.45 a.m. for a delight of big open views, neat valleys and forest rides. There are some steep climbs in this 7 mile circular walk and a lunch stop at the Eight Bells in Jevington returning to the car park around 2.30 p.m.

The National Park was created on 1 April 2010, and the National Park Authority took up its full powers as planning and access authority on 1 April 2011. The Society has praised the National Park Authority for its work, by acting decisively to protect and enhance the precious landscape of the South Downs.

“As the critical friend of the National Park Authority, it is our job to support the Authority and to be frank when we feel they’ve got it wrong” said Robert Cheesman, the Chairman of the South Downs Society. “On the whole, we think they are doing an excellent job, with particular highlights being the improvement to grassland close to the South Downs Way as part of the special Nature Improvement Areas in the UK; the Authority’s support for the Mosaic Project, which helps people from black and minority ethnic communities to enjoy the National Park; and the creation of the Sustainable Communities Fund for projects to improve the Downs, which has enabled local communities to achieve so much.”

Everyone is invited to join in on the celebratory walks, all of which are free. Walkers are advised to bring a drink and a bite to eat, a sunhat or waterproof – depending on the Great British weather of the day – and to wear sturdy shoes. More information about any of the walks can be obtained from the South Downs Society on 01798 875073. 25 March 2013

Posted on Leave a comment

Just what is the role of the rural estate?

Come to St John’s Church Centre, Rowlands Castle on Friday 12 April to discover the answer. At the turn of the 21st century the landscape, the economy and the socio-economics of the South Downs was defined to a large degree by the rural estates. James Cooper, Director of the Stansted Park Foundation will be talking on the impact such estates have had on our past, present and future.

The South Downs Society – your National Park Society – will be presenting this event which is sponsored by the Ramblers Holidays Charitable Trust. Starting at 7 p.m., when refreshments will be served, you will gain a valuable insight to the management of the countryside we are so privileged to enjoy.

Tickets, just £5 each to include light refreshments, can be purchased in advance from either Robert Self (02392 484412) or Penny Murray (02392 486007) and the South Downs Society, 01798 875073. Alternatively Rowlands Castle Parish Clerk has tickets available from the Parish Council office. 25 March 2013

Posted on Leave a comment

All at Sea over Marine Conservation?

“Friends of the National Park”, the South Downs Society, today (25 March) poured lukewarm water over government’s latest plans to protect maritime wildlife.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has been consulting on proposals to create a number of special Marine Conservation Zones round the coast to protect key habitats and species including fish, but environmental organisations have deemed the plans insufficient.

Says South Downs Society Policy Officer, Steve Ankers, “We’ve been waiting for these proposals to emerge for a long time. There have been endless studies and meetings of interested parties. The urgent need for increased protection has surely been made and I have to say we’re disappointed with what the government’s come up with.”

The Society regards the English Channel close to the Sussex coast as the backdrop to the South Downs National Park and its health and wildlife diversity as fundamental to the public’s enjoyment of this special landscape. Although agreeing that the creation of special zones is a positive move, the Society believes “geographically limited and partially protected sites” will not be enough by themselves.

“We’re pleased that there’s to be a protected area just west of Beachy Head,” says Steve Ankers, “but it’s going to be much narrower in extent than the voluntary conservation area we’ve had in place there for a long time and it doesn’t even take in the tidal estuaries of the Ouse and the Cuckmere. And they say they’re not at this stage taking forward proposals for another zone just east of Beachy Head, which is a major setback.”

The South Downs Society is particularly unhappy that early ideas for setting up some “Reference Areas” amongst the conservation zones with an even higher level of wildlife protection have been dropped to satisfy commercial interests.

“These proposals are a start,” says Steve Ankers, “but we were expecting much more. Let’s hope that this is just the beginning and the network of Marine Conservation Zones will rapidly grow in area and species coverage and do the job that needs doing. And let’s hope it’s properly funded and not just paying lip service.”