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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. Please take a few minutes to complete this quick, anonymous survey. We value your contribution to our future planning and look forward to sharing the results with you in future.

Your opinion matters

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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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
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Conversions of Barns and Other Rural Buildings

We are deeply concerned to learn of the Government’s plans to rip up the planning protections that keep our national parks beautiful by allowing permitted development rights for conversions of barns and other rural buildings. The Campaign for National Parks has now sent a letter, signed by FSD as well as other NP Societies, to Michael Gove expressing this concern. Read that letter here:

conversions of barns and other rural buildings

SIR – We are deeply concerned to learn of the Government’s plans to rip up the planning protections that keep our national parks beautiful by allowing permitted development rights for conversions of barns and other rural buildings.

National parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty are our finest landscapes, and even small changes can have a disproportionate impact in these places. If these proposals go ahead, they will lead to a free-for-all on the development of isolated residential units in unsustainable locations without the supporting infrastructure, and could add significant pressures in terms of water pollution and traffic.

Where once there was a field barn standing isolated in a hay meadow, there will be a pocket of suburbia, and this will be repeated throughout the landscape, creating sprawl and spoiling everyone’s enjoyment of nature, open space and tranquillity.

We recognise the need to provide more affordable housing across the country, but residential barn conversions in remote places like the Yorkshire Dales National Park would do nothing to help and would instead cause irreparable damage to our fragile countryside.

National parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty are living landscapes that must adapt over time, and the current approach to planning does a difficult job well in balancing progress with protection. The Government should shut the barn door on these disastrous proposals before the horse bolts.

What the Friends of the South Downs Do

We have a Planning and Conservation Committee whose primary objective is to influence the decisions made so that the beauty, amenity and tranquillity of the South Downs is either conserved or sustainably enhanced for public benefit.

To achieve this, our role is to consider planning applications that are made either within or close to the National Park boundary. This is done through a team of Volunteer District Officers, each covering a specific ‘District’ within the Park. Each Officer inspects new planning applications that have been made in their District to assess the likely impact. If considered necessary, a response to an application is submitted to either the National Park Planning Authority or the Local Planning Authority to whom planning decisions have been delegated. A response may set out our concerns including an objection, provide constructive comments and observations or we may present written support for an application on the basis that the Society considers that it will meet National Park purposes.

Would you like to join us as a member to support our work or volunteer with us? Get in touch today!

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Permitted Development Rights (PDR)

We were deeply disappointed to learn of the Government’s plans to extend the Permitted Development Rights (PDR) for any agricultural or rural building to Protected Landscapes (National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs)). There is a long-established practice of not applying certain permitted development rights in these areas in line with national planning policy which emphasises the importance of protecting these areas from inappropriate development.

We were deeply disappointed to learn of the Government’s plans to extend the Permitted Development Rights (PDR)

Our Trustees are alarmed and disappointed, as, we are sure will be our members, to see the PDR proposals in relation to our National Parks.  We are strongly opposed to them.

Our Response to this Consultation

1.  The Friends of the South Downs (FSD) have over 1,500 members and their focus is the conservation and enhancement of the landscape of the South Downs National Park and its quiet enjoyment by everyone. To this end we support and uphold the statutory purposes and special qualities of the National Park. We support the work of the South Downs National Park Authority: we warmly applaud the Authority’s successful and effective Local Plan and the Authority’s work to enhance the natural infrastructure that the Park represents, to increase nature recovery and measures in relation to climate change. We have a close and beneficial relationship with the Authority.

2.  Our Trustees are alarmed and disappointed, as, we are sure will be our members, to see the PDR proposals in relation to our National Parks.  We are strongly opposed to them.

3.   We should not need to remind you that the statutory purposes of the South Downs National Park and indeed all our national parks – section 61(1) Environment Act 1995 – do not include scope for watering-down or compromise. They form the key statutory imperative that should guide all decisions where our national parks are concerned.

4.  We are very supportive of the work of Julian Glover and the important findings in his report, Landscapes Review. On page 64, he wrote:

 ‘The current Permitted Development Rights (PDR) system should also be reviewed and, if necessary, further PDRs should be added to the list of those currently withdrawn within national landscapes to ensure that the full application process applies before determining planning approval.

For example, forestry and agricultural changes allowed under permitted development can have significant impacts on landscape quality, and the South East and East Protected Landscapes forum has made a convincing case that these should be reviewed.’

5.   The Government’s response to Glover acknowledged in relation to Planning Reform that: ‘A strong and effective system must sustainably balance protections with supporting local communities and economies. The balancing exercise must be carried out differently in protected landscapes, to ensure their statutory purposes and special qualities are meaningfully protected. This involves giving greater weight to their special qualities in planning policies, procedures, and decisions.’

On the following page, under the heading ‘Permitted development’, the response went on:

‘The review also highlighted that certain Permitted Development Rights (PDR) may impact landscape quality, and proposal 6 suggested a review of existing rights.

We recognise that permitted development rights can play an important role in delivering new homes, particularly in rural areas. This benefits householders and businesses. We will continue to monitor the use of permitted development rights in protected landscapes and identify future opportunities to review their use.’

6.  Now comes this consultation. Still nothing has happened about implementing Glover beyond a response admitting that ‘this balancing exercise must be carried out differently in protected landscapes’. These proposals though offer no meaningful protection. In fact, they represent the very opposite; one of the biggest threats to the national parks in a generation. We are concerned that the proposals do not include detailed justification for the changes proposed, nor is there any environmental impact appraisal. Our view is that the existing regime works well and it complies properly with the statutory responsibility

7.  We are concerned about the conversion of barns. However, there is a planning process in place. It does work. We have seen barn conversions granted, but they have all had to go through a rigorous process to ensure there was no damage to the landscape and environment. What we are more concerned about here in the South Downs is the proposal relating to equestrian use. Over the years the SDNPA has dealt with numerous applications for stables. Of late, there has been a trickle of applications to convert those stables. For the most part those have been for tourism rather than as separate residences because of planning policies. However, If these proposals were enacted, it has to be anticipated there would be a wave of conversions. We would end up with unsuitable buildings in unsuitable locations, with domestic paraphernalia and little pockets of suburbia across the Downs, with increased vehicle movements. There would be little benefit in terms of housing numbers and to communities in the Park. The main beneficiaries in the South Downs would be horse owners, not farmers. The fragile landscape and tranquillity of the South Downs National Park are far too precious to risk being compromised in this manner. Even seemingly small or very small developments can compromise out of all proportion.     

8.  The FSD includes an expert planning committee, who review every planning application and decision within or near the Park. The committee sees no need to adjust the current exemptions and emphasise that any bona fide case for conversion or increase is easily put forward in a planning application which will be expertly assessed by the Authority’s professional staff. Any farmer or property owner will not be deterred from a worthwhile conversion scheme by the need to make a planning application; indeed, the pre-app process often brings forward helpful advice and suggestions. In short, the application process is not burdensome or unhelpful or contrary to the public interest.    

9.  The crux of this is that a bona fide scheme for conversion or enlargement within the South Down National Park can easily be assessed by planning application and no deserving farmer or owner will be deterred: a sound outcome is achieved and the provisions of the Environment Act are upheld.

10.  We have noted below the consultation question numbers that concern this response.

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South Downs Way Annual Walk

Archaeology tells us that the route along the South Downs Way (SDW) has been used by humans for thousands of years. It was favoured as a relatively safe way of traveling across West and East Sussex, avoiding the dangers of thick woodland and the large areas of lowland marshes that were then common across southern Britian. So, I decided to join the South Downs Way Annual Walk in 2023. The mostly high, dry chalk and flint route along the top of the Downs was clearly an important part of Bronze Age life in this part of the country, providing a trading network that brought gold, silver, and jet from other parts of Britain into mainland Europe.

South Downs Way Annual Walk 2023
Photo by Tony Linturn

It was last year while on the Friends of the South Downs marketing stand at White Ways Bury Hill that I decided to join the Annual Walk this year. Speaking to many of the walkers who were doing the walk for the first time and others who had walked it many times in both directions, it was clearly an interesting and challenging experience for them.

Footprints of Sussex

Footprints of Sussex have been running the annual SDW walk for over 30 years. Together with their fabulous team ’Red Shirts’, they guided and supported us over the nine days from Eastbourne to Winchester, a total of 106 miles.   

I’ve walked long distances in my younger days but nothing like 106 miles across rolling hills and lush landscapes from sea level at places like Cuckmere Haven and Eastbourne to viewpoints like the chalk cliffs at Seven Sister and Beachy Head, Butser Hill (271m), Winchester Hill, Ditchling Beacon, Devils Dyke and Firle Beacon (217m) that provide amazing 360⁰ views across the Downs.

South Downs Way Annual Walk Tony Linturn
Tony above Pyecombe

So, in preparation for this challenge, I joined the regular Friends of the South Downs Walks and Strolls programme last September to be able to walk an average of 11.5 miles each day.

South Downs Way History

I found the SDW was steeped in history capturing numerous landscape features dating back to Neolithic times (around 3,000 to 2500 BC) including protective enclosures, ancient settlements, long barrows (communal graves) over 60 metres long and many hundreds of smaller round barrows for single or family burials which are marked on the OS maps as ‘tumuli ’on high ground along the SDW. There are many hill forts spread across the Downs dating back to 300 – 200 BC which are believed to have been trading places and seats of power for tribal chieftains as well as providing safety during periods of tribal rivalry and conflict.

The South Downs Way Annual Walk is also a very beautiful way to see the South Downs, trekking along narrow footpaths at the side of steeped valleys, across dried up river beds, wide open farm tracks through field of wheat, corn and other agricultural crops as well as through wild meadows filled with wild flowers such as Field Poppys, Fragrant Orchids, Round Headed Rampions as well as wild herbs and spices like Thyme, Garlick, Mint, Marjoram, Sage and ancient health remedies like Lady’s Mantle, Elderflowers, Lavender, Feverfew and Mignonette which were used by the Romans and Anglo Saxons to treat migraine, bruises and other everyday ailments.       

South Downs Way Annual Walk Wildlife

We also saw a myriad of wildlife including many different species of butterflies, bees, beetles, grasshoppers, and unusual looking snails. Rooks nesting in Beech trees, Jackdaws, Seagulls and Fulmars sweeping and souring along the Beachy Head cliffs, small birds such as Skylarks fluttering over the fields, Whinchats, Stonechats and Corn Buntings feeding and nesting, and larger birds like Red Kites, Buzzards and Kestrels hovering above looking for mice and other small creatures to feed on. Forget going to the zoos, this really is wild Britian in all its splendour.

We also saw many very old churches and other building dating back to Anglo Saxon and Norman times in and around thatched roofed villages that have stood in an unchanging landscape for hundreds of years.

I also met lots of lovely and interesting people over the nine days including retired doctors, scientists, teachers, nurses and midwives. Mothers and fathers who were taking a break from their busy families and pilgrims and travellers trying to reconnect their lives and make new friends along the way.

I must also take this opportunity to mention the Trustees and walk leaders like David Green, Paul Wilkinson, Janet Goody, Ian Wright, Gaynor Waterman and Ian Lancaster and others who motivated me to get fit and do the walk.  I’d like to say thanks to my trusty walking companion Nigel Watts, who helped me read the map, avoid getting lost and see things I would probably have missed had it not been for him pointing them out, and lastly, to my wife Gill, who made my pack lunches and who I shared the funny times each day. Yes, a very memorable experience indeed.

Tony Linturn

Member and Volunteer

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Be a Friend

Celebrating our Centenary this year, we have some exciting events planned as well as funding some projects that will make a real difference on the Downs. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank all our members for their continued support and invite all our new friends to join us today. Be a Friend of the South Downs.

Be a Friend of the South Downs

As a member, you have access to over 200 walks and strolls a year. Your membership helps support our team of District Officers who monitor planning applications throughout the South Downs National Park. Your membership also helps support our extensive educational programmes with schools.

The Friends of the South Downs has agreed a major programme of spending totalling over £100,000 in our Centenary 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. Be a friend.

Bigger Items of Spending in the Plan

  • £60,000 to the National Park Authority for the refurbishment of the iconic 18th century pump barn building at the Seven Sisters country park, which will be used to showcase the Downs for visitors and provide space for activities.
  • £20,000 for projects to encourage children to learn about and appreciate the South Downs.  We’re running the projects with bodies like the National Park Authority and Youth Hostels Association.  We’re aiming at children for groups who are less likely to visit the Downs.  The plan is to teach them about the landscape and history, and most of all encourage them to appreciate and value the Downs.

Be a Friend and Support our Projects

  • providing attractive wooden benches, converting stiles to gates to improve access and placing information boards at significant locations.
  • helping make a path more accessible for people with limited mobility, planned location Devils Dyke. 
  • Contributing to the cost of staging a play based on Hilaire Belloc’s famous book The Four Men about a walk across the Downs.
  • Financing prizes at Brighton University for academic work relevant to the South Downs.

Upcoming Centenary Events

Be a friend and join today!

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Our Youngest Downlanders

“It is rather wonderful that some of our youngest downlanders have been able to celebrate the Centenary of the Friends of the South Downs, by marking out ‘100’ on the greensward of the Downs. Bury School, nestling, as it does in the heart of the South Downs, has worked with FSD on two of our schools’ projects and are now taking part in our latest educational project called South Downs for All. Only last month, I accompanied some of the Year 5 and Year 6 children on an eight-mile walk over the downs from Slindon to Bury. A great school with a real commitment to sharing the joy of the South Downs with all their pupils.” Chris Hare, Project Manager

bury school friends of the south downs south downs for all

Our latest educational project, South Downs for All, is a programme aimed at bringing together eight South Down schools and the FSD to enable more children to enjoy the South Downs and learn about the heritage of this wonderful landscape. Chris Hare is also project manager of South Downs Generations, a unique partnership between FSD and four West Sussex Primary schools. That project brings together young and old to explore our common downland heritage.

Year 5 and 6 children at Bury School proved their downland credentials by walking from Slindon to Bury, a distance of some 12 km. The day was perfect – warm but not too warm.

We walked by Slindon Folly on Nore Hill, built for the Countess of Newburgh over 200 years ago, and trod the route Roman soldiers took 2,000 years ago along a surviving stretch of Roman road at Stane Street, that once led all the way from Chichester to London.

There were plenty of stops, including one at Bignor Hill, where the fingerpost points to destinations written in the original Latin.

Finally, we descended Bignor Hill and came across a bubbling stream, fed from a spring in the Downs. On returning to Bury School at just after 3:00pm, all the party – adults, as well as our youngest downlanders, were pleased to rest weary feet and limbs. But all agreed: it had been a great day.

bury school south downs for all our youngest downlanders
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New Immersive Walking Experience

An inspiring, new immersive walking experience that encourages visitors to discover new stories and reflections on Sussex’s iconic Heritage Coast has now officially launched. This summer, people walking along the beautiful chalk coastline from Seaford to Eastbourne will be able to tune in to 13 unique audio stories, each attached to a ‘listening point’ in the landscape, such as a bench, gate post or signpost.

New Immersive Walking Experience Friends of the South Downs We Hear You Now

We Hear You Now: the audio content includes stirring, emotive and sometimes surprising stories covering fiction, poetry and even new mythologies for this world-famous coastline.  The talented wordsmiths have worked in collaboration with Alinah Azadeh, project lead and the first-ever Writer-in-Residence for Seven Sisters Country Park and Sussex Heritage Coast.

Alinah explained: “My intention is that our stories and poems act as a welcome, a creative spark – and a marker of radical hope in these precarious times.

“I wanted to make space both for my own work as resident writer and to amplify other creative voices missing from this pastoral coastal landscape; older women’s voices, Black voices, voices of colour, migrant voices, queer and non-binary voices, working class voices, disabled voices.

“Many of us have centred the most crucial voice of all; the voice of the land, and its challenge to us to reciprocate the care, protection, spaces for rest and joy it has always given us.

“Thank you to the close partnership and unswerving support of the South Downs National Park, and all the writers and spectrum of partners in making this new immersive walking experience possible.” The experience begins at the Seven Sisters Country Park Visitor Centre, near Seaford, and leads the visitor around the meanders and river of Cuckmere Valley. Then you are taken along the breathtaking chalk coast via Belle Tout Lighthouse and Beachy Head. Visitors can sit and hear the stories, or walk with them. The audio stories are accessed via any smartphone by simply scanning a QR code or tapping for an NFC code.

The writers are Alinah Azadeh, Georgina Aboud, Jenny Arach, Razia Aziz, Joyoti Grech Cato, Oluwafemi Hughes, Dulani Kulasinghe, Georgina Parke and Akila Richards. Access the video here:

Anooshka Rawden, Cultural Heritage Lead for the South Downs National Park, said: “Exploring the landscape with ecologists, archaeologists and environmental campaigners, British-Iranian writer and artist Alinah Azadeh, has used her passion for the South Downs to provide a nurturing hand to fellow creatives who have been invited to voice their relationship with the Seven Sisters and the Sussex Coast.

In We Hear You Now, writers of global heritage bring stories of survival, recovery and reverence for land as a living, breathing entity to create new mythologies for this iconic landscape. I hope anyone who listens to this new immersive walking experience feels closer to the land under their feet, and to the people and cultures who have been part, and continue to be part of its future.”

The trail launches to the public on 24 June 2023. Print guides with a map and information can be collected from Seven Sisters Country Park Visitor Centre, Exceat, near Seaford, East Sussex, BN25 4AD and across partner sites, or downloaded online from 24 June 2023. All content is freely available.

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Walks and Strolls Programme

Our latest Walks and Strolls programme for the third quarter is now live. We offer over 200 walks and strolls over the year of varied distances for most fitness levels. Centenary celebrations continue this quarter with themed strolls in various locations.

Friends of the South Downs alks and strolls programme

The first one takes place in August and begins in West Chiltington, after which participants will enjoy lunch provided at the Society’s Pulborough office. The second Centenary stroll takes place near Petworth and our patron, Lord Egremont, has granted exclusive access to the private wood at Flexham Park. The third Centenary stroll will actually be two separate strolls on the same evening, aiming to meet up at Devil’s Jumps near Cocking to enjoy the sunset.

One of our trustees, David Green, has designed a linear walk called the ‘Belloc Way’. The route draws inspiration from Hilaire Belloc’s renowned 1911 novel, The Four Men: A Farrago. The novel recounts the journey of four men who embark on a 90-mile pilgrimage across Sussex, starting from Robertsbridge in the east and concluding at South Harting in the west. Along their path, they encounter various points of interest and engage in sharing stories, songs, jokes, and reflections on life, history, and culture.

The ‘Belloc Way’ walk will take place over six days during the first two weeks of August. While four committed regular walkers have pledged to complete the entire route, we warmly welcome other participants to join them for individual legs of the journey. This will provide an opportunity to learn more about Belloc’s remarkable life and his significant contributions to the literary world.

Our Walks and Strolls programme is available in PDF form for you to download, print and save. If you’d like more information about joining us and walking with us, please contact us here.

As well as our Walks and Strolls programme, we also offer a selection of self-guided walks which you can enjoy on your own or with friends. For each walk we provide a download including a map, description and images to help you find your way.

Friends of the South Downs walks and strolls programme
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Kipling and the Seven Sisters

No tender-hearted garden crowns,

No bosomed woods adorn

Our blunt, bow headed, whale backed downs

But gnarled and writhen thorns

Most readers will instantly recognise these lines from the poem Sussex by Rudyard Kipling. Few poems capture the spirit and the beauty of the Downs which he had come to love at the turn of the 20th Century. It was written in the summer of 1902, just a couple of months before he and his family moved from Rottingdean, where they had been living for the past five years, to Bateman’s near the East Sussex village of Burwash, where they would live out the rest of their lives. They had moved to Rottingdean in 1897 at a time when he was one of the most popular and admired writers in the country, having captured the public’s imagination with his tales and poems of India which had earned him the soubriquet ‘The Laureate of the Empire’.

Kipling and the Seven Sisters friends of the south downs

Overall, the Kiplings’ stay in Rottingdean appears to have been a happy period in their lives, although clouded by the death of their eldest child, Josephine, who had died of pneumonia at the age of just six years old whilst they were on a visit to America in 1899. Looking back at their time in the village, writing in his autobiography Something of Myself, Kipling recalled, ‘I do not remember any violent alarms and excursions other than packing farm-carts filled with mixed babies […] and despatching them into the safe clean heart of the motherly Downs for jam-smeared picnics, […] Those were exceedingly good days, and one’s work came easily and fully.’

However, the Downs that Kipling eulogised in his poem were in a state of crisis. From the 1870s onwards, Britain had experienced a prolonged agricultural depression, brought about by cheap imports of wheat, meat and wool from abroad.  Land prices had plummeted and by the beginning of the 20th Century much of the downland lay derelict. However, where many saw crisis others would see opportunities. In 1915, a property developer called Charles Neville bought up land on top of the cliffs west of Newhaven, and after the war, divided the area up into plots of land for people to build their own houses on. With virtually no planning restrictions, the new ‘town’, which was given the name ‘Peacehaven’, was described as ‘a rash of bungalows, houses, shops, shacks, chicken runs, huts and dog kennels’.

The despoilation of the Downs at Peacehaven was, of course, the spur that led to the foundation of the Society of Sussex Downsmen (as it was then known) in 1923. Its first chairman was the journalist and newspaper proprietor, Arthur Beckett. At the Society’s inaugural meeting in January 1924, Beckett proposed that, ‘Mr Rudyard Kipling be asked to be President, or failing that, Patron of the Society.’ Kipling was a notoriously private person, and nothing appears to have come from Beckett’s proposal.

However, whilst he may have shunned the idea of an honorary post in the Society, Kipling obviously felt deeply about saving the Downs from development. In 1926, the Crowlink Estate, which comprised 480 acres of land along the top of the Seven Sisters cliffs between Seaford and Eastbourne, was bought by a building syndicate for £9,750.  In an effort to prevent development taking place, the Society approached the syndicate to buy the land to protect it. The syndicate offered to sell the land for £16,450 so a national appeal was launched to raise the money. As part of the appeal, a leaflet, entitled, ‘The Beauty of England must mean something to you!’ was printed to publicise the campaign. The leaflet describes the beauty of the Downs and states: It might have been this very beauty that inspired Mr. Rudyard Kipling when he wrote the fourth stanza of his Sussex:

Clean of officious fence or hedge,

Half-wild and wholly tame,

The wise turf cloaks the white cliff-edge

As when the Romans came.

What sign of those that fought and died

At shift of sword and sword?

The barrow and the camp abide,

The sunlight and the sward.

It is just this ‘wise turf’ and this ‘white cliff edge’ of Crowlink that have been threatened with defacement in our commercial age.

These lines could only have been printed with Kipling’s permission, and by allowing his lines to be quoted he would have added much weight to the appeal. The appeal caught the public’s imagination and the necessary funds were swiftly raised whereupon the Seven Sisters ultimately passed into the guardianship of the National Trust. In addition to Kipling lending his name to the appeal, Arthur Beckett writing in an article for The Sussex County Magazine shortly after Kipling’s death in 1936, tells us, ‘When I asked him if he would subscribe to the purchase fund initiated by the Society of Sussex Downsmen to save the Crowlink Valley […] he sent a cheque for a substantial sum.’ Kipling’s involvement in the appeal clearly demonstrates his concern over development that was taking place in an area of countryside that he had come to love.

Although the Seven Sisters had been saved, insensitive development would take place on the cliff tops to the east of Rottingdean. In his autobiography, whilst remembering the happy times at Rottingdean, Kipling regretfully observed, ‘Today, from Rottingdean to Newhaven is almost fully developed suburbs, of great horror.’ 

It is evident that Kipling loved the Downs and was happy to do what he could to protect them, whilst his evocative poem Sussex would go on to inspire others to go out and do the same. His role in the campaign to save the Seven Sisters undoubtedly contributed towards the success of the appeal and in many ways, he was in the vanguard of what today we would call the conservation movement.    

Richard Howell            

Richard Howell is a Council member of the Kipling Society. He lives in Sussex, and has recently completed an M.A. thesis on the history of the Bateman’s Estate.