The access map for the South Downs looks like it had a paintbrush shaken over it. The access land consists largely of scattered spots, some of them inaccessible. That is because so much of the chalk downland has been sprayed and ploughed and converted into arable so it did not qualify under the ‘downland’ definition applied by the Countryside Agency which was responsible for the mapping. However, the registered common land, to which access rights were also provided under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROW Act), does give more extensive access land.
Not so in East Sussex. In 1993 the county’s common-land registers were destroyed in a fire. In 1994 parliament passed the Commons Registration (East Sussex) Act which gave the county council, as commons registration authority, a duty to reconstitute the registers. It seems that the council ignored its duty and made no effort to reconstruct the registers. When the CROW Act required all common land to be mapped as access land there were still no registers in East Sussex. Thus the access maps there do not include the commons unless they happened also to be access land.
At the time it was calculated that the common land totalled about 35 square kilometres of which 20 were shown as open country with rights to walk.
Although the council has now sorted its registers, there is no scope for getting the commons on the access maps until Natural England carries out the decadal review of the maps (which due to lack of resources has been postponed way beyond the decade).
Thus most of the lovely Telscombe Tye common, between Brighton and Newhaven, is not shown as access land on the Ordnance Survey maps. Telscombe Town Council, the landowner, allows public access but the maps don’t say so.
The bulk of the Tye is a long wedge of common extending down to the sea, and on its eastern side to the boundary of Telscombe Cliffs (the posh end of Peacehaven). It is an exhilarating stretch of open country enjoyed by the local population.
There is a separate, smaller, part of the Tye to the north-east, bordering on Southease parish and the northern end of Peacehaven. This is known as the ‘E-piece’ (because of its shape). For some reason it was not mapped as access land, though it is obviously downland. Perhaps the quantity of scrub prevented it being included (the rules for mapping were bizarre).
From the highest point on the E-piece there is a lovely view north-east to Mount Caburn, near Lewes.
There was a plan to fence the E-piece to allow grazing in connection with a higher-level stewardship scheme aimed at restoring the chalk grassland. However, there was inadequate consultation and the application for works on common land was hotly opposed at the ensuing public inquiry in 2012. The inspector, Sue Arnott, rejected the application. Her main grounds were that the town council had not produced a management plan to show how grazing would benefit the habitat. The council is now reconsidering the management of the common, taking much greater care to consult all interests.
I visited the E-piece last week on behalf of the Open Spaces Society, with Chris Smith, our local correspondent for Lewes District, and David Riddle of 3D Rural Surveyors who is advising the council. I had not been here before and it is a most delightful site.
The arms of the E-piece embrace an arable field which belongs to the National Trust. There is a chance that one day the field will be restored to downland with rights of access to create an extensive area of access land.
The trust allows permissive access around the field, although there are no signs inviting people to go there. These routes should be publicised and preferably dedicated—they are most attractive, and suitable for less-able walkers and riders.
If the E-piece is to be enclosed, the alignment of the fence must be carefully planned to ensure that it is on the common-land boundary and hidden in scrub to prevent it being an eyesore, with plenty of easy access points. There must be no barbed wire, and the fence should only remain for as long as it’s needed.
Since it will take some time to get this land mapped for access because of the delay in the CROW Act review, it would be excellent if the town council would dedicate it as access land under section 16 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, for walkers and riders. The entrance to the site from the dead-end lane to Telscombe could be made more welcoming too, and the council has this in hand.
So let’s hope the common will soon be shown as access land on OS maps, with dedicated paths leading to it and published walks incorporating it. This will provide a wonderful new access-opportunity for walkers and riders.