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Pondtail Wood Albourne–SAVED!

Triumph after tragedy! You may remember about 5 years ago a new owner of Pondtail Wood in Albourne created a local controversy. Without appropriate permission, he created a new access track from the highway and clear felled a large area of this ancient woodland, dumping a large amount of building material in the cleared area. What an eyesore it was! Residents of Hurstpierpoint, Sayers Common, Poynings and Albourne, amongst others, were all closely involved in creating the action group that saved Pondtail Wood.

The Save Pondtail Wood Facebook page gives further details of both the destruction and campaign which also involved the Sussex Wildlife Trust

It proved very difficult for various technical reasons to put a stop to the illegal activity, but eventually the South Downs National Park Authority were successful through their enforcement team. The wood is in a “bubble” pushing out from the National Park and is some way from the Downs. Together with the Shaves Wood to the north, it hosts some rare butterfly species.

The wood was put up for sale by auction but needed urgent and very expensive remedial work. After 700 tons of illegally dumped waste were cleared, recovery commenced, which included planting 2000 new trees. Pondtail Wood is now in the safe hands of a local family who regard themselves as custodians of this wonderful part of the South Downs National Park. They have overseen the replanting and regrowth of the five acres, lost to illegal felling and the woodland has begun to recover beautifully.

Despite the terrible damage caused by the trucks and excavators, bluebells have started  once again to carpet the woodland and vast quantities of life have returned to the ponds and streams that had once been filled with tree stumps and rubble.

As well as visiting Canada Geese, a family of ducks now occupy the pond island and traditional native bred pigs nuzzle through the woodland floor. It has been a wonderful example of how with a little help, Mother Nature can fix even the worst damage caused by humans.

Works continue at the site and there are plans to install a borehole to help water the trees through the summer months (not needed this year!)

It is hoped in future to open the woods in future to anyone wanting to learn more about woodland craft and forest management. The wood is on the B2117 Muddles Wood road in Albourne more or less opposite Singing Hills Golf Club, before you reach Poynings Crossways coming from the east.

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National Parks and the Climate Emergency

The Campaign for National Parks, of which we are a member, produced a report in June entitled National Parks and the Climate Emergency. It starts with the premise that the climate crisis is the biggest global threat we’ve ever faced and sets out to examine what the National Park Authorities (NPAs) are currently doing and to identify further actions that they, Government and other stakeholders need to take.

Eastbourne Downs from Windover – photo by Richard Reed

There are 10 national parks in England, covering almost 10% of the country and three in Wales accounting for 20% of the country. In the Foreword, the CNP Chair, Janette Ward, declares: “With this report we want decision makers to understand the importance of ensuring our National Parks are fully equipped to combat climate change and contribute to achieving national and global targets for carbon reduction.”

The Report observes that “Many NPAs have now developed specific Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Strategies and are undertaking detailed studies to better understand the impacts on their Park”. The SDNPA have done just that. In March 2020, they adopted a Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan confirming a “commitment to address the climate and nature emergency” by:

  • Committing to the SDNPA becoming a ‘Net-Zero’ Organisation by 2030
  • Agreeing an action plan which includes a commitment to working with our constituent Local Authorities and other partners, in particular communities and landowners, to deliver actions that respond effectively to the climate and nature emergency
  • Committing to working towards the SDNP becoming ‘Net-Zero with Nature’ by 2040

As part of that exercise, the SDNPA produced three principal documents: a Strategy, an Action Plan and a 5-Year Programme.  Climate Change Adaptation Plan and Strategy – South Downs  National Park Authority . They make interesting reading, in particular, the 5-Year Programme. It marks an attempt to actually translate good intentions into positive action and sets targets by which the success or otherwise of the actions can be judged.

In early December 2020, National Parks England published four Delivery Plans defining key targets for the NPAs’ work. One of these was on Climate Leadership. They made a number of specific commitments, one of which was “leading by example, through achieving net zero NPAs by 2030, wherever possible”.  They identified actions to achieve this, including:

  • Securing additional funding to establish a consistent carbon budget baseline for all 10 National Parks
  • Employing a climate change officer in each NPA to coordinate data and lead delivery of the net zero plan
  • Promoting sustainable tourism and demonstrating the benefit of low carbon holiday destinations
  • Better communicating how changes in land use as a result of climate change might affect the landscape character of the National Parks
  • Advocating for changes to national policy that will “provide NPAs with the tools locally to deliver net zero”                          

Interestingly, the SDNPA is not proposing to employ a specific climate change officer as they take the view that it is an expertise that should extend across all their work streams. Having said that, their Landscape and Biodiversity Strategy Lead, Chris Fairbrother, is the convenor for the UK National Parks Climate Change group and helped produce their Delivery Plan on Climate Leadership.

This particular Delivery Plan does come in for some criticism from the CNP Report. The charge is that it is “largely aspirational and does not contain any specific milestones other than the net zero dates”. There is a suggestion that although it declares itself to be “rightly ambitious”, it could be more ambitious. There are more ambitious commitments from elsewhere in the public sector. For example, the York and North Yorkshire Local Industrial Strategy sets out an ambition for the area (which contains two national parks) to be carbon neutral by 2034 and then to become England’s first carbon negative economy by 2040. It will be hard for NPAs to argue that they are at the forefront of tackling the climate emergency unless they can demonstrate that they are at least matching such ambitions.

There is a suggestion too that if they want to demonstrate real leadership, the NPAs need to ask for more powers, responsibilities and resources and for wider changes to national policy in order to support such ambitions. For example, encouraging car-free visitors would be far easier if a national road pricing scheme was introduced and/or local bus services were organised in a way which ensured greater support for rural services.

It is clear that, by themselves, the NPAs can only achieve a limited amount. They own a very small proportion of the land in their respective Parks and they are not the transport authority. That significantly reduces their influence. The Glover Report did propose a pilot scheme for the Lake District NPA to be the strategic transport authority for its area and it is understood that two other NPAs are interested in being included in any such pilot. Thus far, the Government has been very slow to respond to Glover.

The CNP Report does identify good progress made by the NPAs but suggests room for improvement. It also emphasizes that more needs to be done by way of education and that there has to be an appreciation on the part of everyone, but particularly Government, that radical action is required urgently before we can start to tackle the crisis effectively. Please do read it if you have the time.

David Green, Trustee

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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

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Historic Footpaths: Don’t Lose Your Way

David Green, the Chairman of Access and Rights of Way Committee, is working with other organisations to identify historic footpaths and byways that may have gone unregistered. Claims can be made until 1 January 2026.

The path up Amberley Mount

If you are a local walker, you may have more than a passing knowledge of the historic footpaths in the areas in which you live. I am hoping therefore that this campaign will be of interest.

Until 1949, the public had to go to court to establish the existence of a right of way. That changed with the passing of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 which required surveying authorities (county councils and unitary authorities) to draw up and maintain a ‘definitive map and statement’ of the rights of way in their area. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, many rights of way slipped through the net and were never recorded.

An application could still be made to modify the definitive map by adding a historic right of way, but we only have time until 2025. Section 53 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 provided a cut-off date of 1 January 2026 for all claims to a right of way based on historical evidence to be submitted to surveying authorities. It follows therefore that on that date we stand to lose many unregistered historic footpaths, bridleways and restricted byways.

Fortunately for us, the Ramblers have undertaken a major piece of work to prepare a map of potential lost rights of way. It is available here. It was drawn up by comparing an Ordnance Survey map from around 1900 and a Bartholomew map of around the same year. The routes that were shown as footpaths, bridleways or roads on the old maps, but are not shown on the current definitive maps as rights of way, are marked with blue dashes.

There is a small group of lost way activists at Sussex ‘Don’t Lose Your Way’ led by Chris Smith of the Open Spaces Society.  Its membership is made up of members of the Ramblers, Friends of the South Downs, Open Spaces Society and others with a particular interest in preserving lost rights of way. Our help is needed in identifying those routes in our parishes that really would be a valuable addition to the rights of way network.

Chris Smith says, ‘Please don’t exclude historic paths just because you think that they may have been blocked up or diverted, unless you are absolutely sure that they have been diverted. DLYW will be checking diversion orders later. You may feel that you have enough rights of way already, in which case there is no need to reply, but I thought you ought to be given an opportunity. This is probably the last chance.

‘We cannot promise to research every path that is sent in. Indeed, we may come back to you for help, but we will do what we can. The best way for you to reply is to cut and paste an image of the route in question into a Word or similar document. You can do this using Windows tools “snipping tool” or “snip and sketch” and there are similar tools on the Mac. Failing this the grid references will do.”

Please use the Contact Us button at the top of the page to get in touch with us regarding this project.

David Green

Access & Rights of Way Committee Chairman

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Tree Guards: Protectors or Polluters?

Chris Steibelt, Trustee, is heading a new project and tells us why Friends of the South Downs have decided to launch this campaign

It’s more than likely for this to be a common sight in our countryside in the coming years as the UK Government sets ambitious targets for planting as many as 3000 hectares of woodland per annum. That’s a good thing though, isn’t it? Tree planting forms a key part of our goal to reach net zero carbon emissions in the next three decades. We all love trees!

Chris Steibelt and Lottie

Our enthusiasm at Friends of the South Downs for this ambitious government initiative is tainted just a little. Most planted saplings need some form of protection from rodents and deer in order to survive until they are well established. The common solution is to use a tree guard. These need to be durable and translucent for at least five years and the most cost-effective solution to date is those made of plastic. The good news is, technology has advanced and not all that plastic is fossil fuel based. Today, many products made with UV stabilised polypropylene which is generally recyclable. How could this be a problem?

All too often, tree guards are left to deteriorate

The problem: our countryside is already littered with redundant tree guards. We also have the prospect of another 9 million being added each year! In our haste to plant trees it seems we haven’t really thought hard enough about who will recover the guards and who will bear the cost.  

At Friends of the South Downs, we want to create more awareness on this issue and explore the options. We have decided to launch a new campaign, as inspired by the fantastic work of The Friends of the Dales, not to stop the use of tree guards, but to:

•             Increase public awareness both within the South Downs National Park and nationally

•             Call for greater accountability for removal of redundant tree guards – you put them in, you take them out!

•             Lobby tree planting organisations to use alternative methods

•             Work with the South Downs National Park Authority to introduce regulations within the Park covering the use of tree guards

•             Encourage greater use of bio compostable tree guards

•             Organize collection days around the South Downs National Park to remove redundant tree guards

Otterburn, 2019. The Friends of the Dales with Plastic Free Skipton. Tubes reused by Skipton Town Council

We’d like to hear your views. Have you come across areas of woodland with disintegrating tree guards? Please send us your photos and location (OS grid ref/ What3words / WhatsApp – share your location). Would you and your family be willing to help us on a collection day? Please drop us a line using the Contact Us button above or share to our Facebook page.

Chris Steibelt


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Rewilding the Downs

Friends of the South Downs have been asked for our view on rewilding, especially in relation to the sensitive landscape of the South Downs. Glynn Jones has approached this controversial subject.

Photo by Richard Reed: Coombe Hill Scarp, July

Rewilding the Downs is a complex issue, mainly because the Downs as we know and love them are entirely unnatural and a product of human interference.  We also need to consider our reasons for rewilding. What outcome are we seeking?

The “climax vegetation” of most of the British Isles is woodland. Put simply, if you take an area of land and do absolutely nothing to it, it will turn into woodland. That’s what would have covered the Downs when Neolithic people visited in the warmer months to hunt. But then as the climate improved, they decided to settle there. There would have been a few places where the geology, geomorphology, grazing and aspect prevented the development of forest, areas sometimes referred to as “Refugia”.  These areas harboured some of the plants that had colonised the area as the “Tundra” of the last ice age retreated.

The downland forest was sitting on deep “Forest Brown Earth” soils that had developed over thousands of years from the insoluble impurities in the chalk that had slowly dissolved away. During the Neolithic period, the first farmers started to clear the woodland on the best drained, lighter and shallower soils (the Downs) using “Slash and Burn” technology.

As time passed the newly exposed soils would have lost their fertility and been eroded away on the slopes. Those early farmers just moved on and cleared more forest. They left behind wild animals  and their own, domesticated animals to graze the vegetation now spreading across these abandoned cultivations. Many of these colonising plants came from the “Refugia” and eventually they were selected to form the vegetation we think of as Chalk Downland. This was selection, not evolution, as the plants themselves did not change.

This persisted for thousands of years until the two World Wars, when the need to feed the nation led to the development of artificial fertilisers and the spread of arable farming. The reduction of sheep farming and finally the introduction of Myxomatosis in 1953 removed the grazing pressure and coarser vegetation developed, including woody plants. Most of the current population of the south of England now know and accept the downland as a partially or fully wooded landscape. Today’s woodland is a very different and less diverse type when compared with that which our early ancestors found. Most importantly, the Forest Brown Earth soils have gone. It would take thousands of years of tree cover for them to redevelop to the point where they could support the type of woodland our forebears destroyed.

To a degree, it could be argued that we have been practising “rewilding” on the steep slopes of the Downs for some time. Most of the scarp slope pasture has been abandoned and the once scattered “open-armed” spreading yew trees are now absorbed into a, largely, pioneering ash woodland with trees thrusting upward in the competition for light. The primary grazing animals are now Roe, Fallow and Muntjac deer together with Brown Hare. The new ash woodland is itself now threatened by the spread of “Ash Die Back” and we do not really know what will replace it. Whatever comes next, even if it’s Rewilding the Downs, it will lack the diversity of the Ancient Woodland cover and will not support more than a fraction of the wildlife interest of the ancient woodland or succeeding grassland.

Glynn Jones, Trustee

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Dark Satanic Mills

A Weald circular walk taking in Milland and Coombe Ponds and the history of the area

The cannons that sunk the Spanish Armada in 1588 were probably forged in the Weald. For over 300 years the ancient forest (the “Wald”— named by the invading German tribes) was cut down to fuel the furnaces that made the “Cold Iron” of Kipling’s poem. Now “The tranquil beauty of the South Downs National Park…its rolling green pastures and ancient woodlands” hide a nightmare past.

Milland Furnace Pond

The Weald runs from the English Channel near Hastings to Harting Coombe where it narrows and butts into a steep greensand ridge at Rake. From about 1350 the Coombe, like the rest of the Weald, began to fill with fire, smoke, noise and human activity.

Iron production usually required a furnace and a forge. The Harting Coombe furnace was partnered by the West Harting hammer mill or forge several miles away. (The names suggest their interdependency.)

The furnace and forge required huge quantities of charcoal sourced from the surrounding forest and ship builders also needed “hearts of oak” for building the Tudor navy. There are well-documented disputes in the 1580s between the two industries. The forest never recovered from the clearances but villagers were able to graze cattle on the new commons.

Before steam power, industry depended on fast-flowing water to power waterwheels to drive machinery. The headwater for the Coombe furnace was held in Coombe pond and sluices controlled the flow. Ironstone was dug from pits in the clay and each pit was backfilled as the next pit was dug. Big lumps were broken down by an initial heating, then the stone was packed into the furnace with the charcoal, heated and blasted by the draught from the bellows. Eventually the molten iron ran out at the bottom of the furnace into sand moulds shaped like a sow with piglets– as pig or cast iron.

Coombe Pond

Ox carts hauled the cast iron out of the steep-sided Coombe possibly using tracks, now footpaths 1164-1 then 1165, to Bull Hill and then “Furnace Lane”, now North Street, Rogate. From there, it was taken to the hammer mill close to where the later railway bridge crossed the Crundall stream, near Nyewood.

Nyewood supplied the wood for charcoal and Crundall stream fed the Harting Ponds, which powered the forge bellows and the waterwheel that drove the huge hammer. The noise was continuous and deafening. Impurities were beaten out of the iron resulting in wrought iron, ready for processing into nails, horseshoes, cannon balls and cannons.

About 1700, Abraham Darby of Coalbrookedale invented coke which produced far more heat than charcoal, or even coal. The Wealden industry could not compete and gradually shut down after more than 300 years, leaving the peaceful countryside we know today.

The Harting Furnace Pond was dismantled in around 1632 but Coombe Pond remains as a private fishing lake. A footpath runs along one side of it, which can be visited using the walk below as can the Milland Pond, which was also connected to a furnace. Across the Weald names like “pond field” “hammer wood” or “hammer pond” are all that remains of the “dark satanic mills” that once dominated our peaceful countryside.

Words: Mairi Rennie

Photos and Map: Caroline and Tony Douglas

Map of Milland Loop

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The Great South Downs Sit Down

View from the newly-installed Saddlescombe Bench

Many walkers tell Friends of the South Downs that there is very little provision to sit down and rest along the South Downs Way, which runs from Winchester to Eastbourne. Today, 19 May 2021, marks the day we proudly reveal the first bench in our ongoing project to provide seats at intervals along the entire length of the iconic route.

The first bench has been installed at East Hill above Saddlescombe Farm on National Trust land. FOSD Patron Lord Egremont cut the ribbon to launch the campaign. Vice-Chairman Andrew Lovett addressed the assembled group of representatives from the NT, South Downs National Park Authority and Trustees of FOSD, at a small, Covid safe, celebration.

Chainsaw sculptor Chris Bain / Photo by Dan Fagan – National Trust

After first gaining permission from the South Downs National Park Authority, we turned to the National Trust, as a major landowner along the route, to provide the initial sites. The first benches are being carved by local chainsaw sculptor Chris Bain. Each bench will be made of sustainable, locally sourced oak and feature a small hidden downland creature. Benches will be individually designed to blend into and enhance the setting in a sympathetic way.

Caroline Douglas, the FOSD Trustee leading The Great South Downs Sit Down project, said, “we are so grateful to Jane Cecil, the NT General Manager and the NT Rangers for all their help and enthusiasm in getting this project off the ground and to Chris Bain for producing such a beautiful bench. More progress has been made with finding sites, so watch out for other benches appearing over the coming months.”

When you visit one of our benches, please share pictures onto our Facebook or our Twitter page! If you find any spots along the South Downs Way that might be a perfect place for one of our benches, please contact us.

Bench dedication ceremony, 19 May 2021. Photo credit: National Trust
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Design Consultation: new development of 226 homes at Old Malling Farm Lewes

Local Lewes councillors and the Friends of the South Downs (South Downs Society) called on the developer to reduce the over provision of parking for each property on the site but called for on street parking restrictions to prevent commuter parking causing problems for the new householders. There is already local concern as nearby is the HQ for both the Police and Fire Services.  The Society also called for

  • Improved cycling and walking links to Lewes town which is only a short distance away.
  • A better design to compensate for the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services at thid greenfield site.
  • A pedestrian crossing on Old Malling Way –  via a ‘Grampian-style’ condition (meaning it would happen before the wider development begins).
  • Provision of zero carbon houses, – the design brief layout must cover the type of heating to be used. If solar panels are to be used, the layout needs to addressed from the outset

Consultation on the design brief has now closed, but more details of the proposal can be found by searching for the reference SDNP/DBC/SD76 on the South Downs National Park planning portal. Consultation on the wider outline application is still active, however, with more details available by searching for the reference SDNP/18/06103/OUT. For more information go to:

The Society’s response was prepared by our Lewes Town volunteer District Officers – Liz Thomas and Dr Jennifer Chibnall – click below to read the document:

SDS Response to SDNP Design Brief Consultation March 2020


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Threat to the Landscape Setting of Historic Buildings

Society DOs from R to L: Brian Davies, Derek Read, Chris Baines-Holmes, Liz Thomas and Rosalyn St Pierre. Policy Officer Vic Ient is on the left.

In November last year our East Sussex district officer team visited Swanborough Manor in East Sussex. We all agreed it was very interesting to look around and inside this unique historical building which started life in the 11thC as the grange to the nearby Cluniac  (St Pancras) Priory in Lewes. But that wasn’t our main purpose. We were reviewing the threat to the landscape setting of such historic building caused by nearby developments.


The team take stock of the adjacent building works

Our Society believe the area around a listed building should be treated with special regard especially when it comes to constructing anything nearby. Anybody applying for planning permission to alter or construct a new building in the vicinity of a listed building should demonstrate how they are protecting the ‘setting’ of a listed building. This applies to Grade II listed buildings and moreover to Grade I buildings.


Please read on….