The annual anniversary celebration on the South Downs National Park is organised by the Hampshire Ramblers, so it tends to be in the Western Weald: this year it was at Midhurst and I had been invited to speak.
When we were fighting for the national park we had to mount an additional campaign to get the Western Weald included as there was pressure for a chalk-only park. It is so fortunate that we succeeded, because this part of the park has wonderful qualities, not least its rare and precious heathland.
I arrived early for a walk around Iping Common, one of these heaths, and was rewarded with an almost instant sighting of two tree pipits and a yellowhammer. Four years ago, I heard nightjars here at the end of July.
I crossed the road for a brief walk on Stedham Common, where the Sussex Wildlife Trust grazes British White cattle. They were doing good work on the birch.
At the South Downs Centre the walkers gathered, and Margaret Paren, chair of the authority, gave a talk about the authority’s current work. Then 36 of us set off on a walk led by Jasper and George Stride.
We followed the River Rother through bluebell woods to Stedham Mill
then to Stedham Church with its amazing yew tree
and across the river under the Tudor Stedham Hall.
We then headed to Woolbeding church for lunch,
and returned to Midhurst for tea provided by the South Downs National Park authority.
I spoke briefly about the need to ensure that post-Brexit agricultural funding pays for new and improved access on paths and freedom to roam—public money for public goods—as well as for restoring lost landscapes such as heath and downland. This change in public funding could be beneficial to the South Downs.
Thinking about my morning visit to Iping Common I pointed out that the South Downs National Park Authority is currently dependent on Heritage Lottery funding to restore its heaths—the Heathlands Reunited project. Less than ten per cent of the park’s former heathland remains, and what is left is fragmented. But we should not have to depend on the lottery to achieve this; such restoration should be financed from agri-environment funding.
The access bodies are getting together to lobby for proper funding for access post-Brexit. We hope to ensure that something good comes out of the current mess.