Location & Geology

The South Downs stretch across the southern England counties of Hampshire and Sussex, from Winchester to Eastbourne. This area of outstanding natural beauty consists of a 75 mile stretch of rolling hills and rugged coastline.

The Downs themselves are made of chalk and flint, a fact that is clearly evident to any visitor to the area. They are laden with footpaths and bridleways allowing plentiful access via foot, bike, or horse.

Activities

Walking & Riding

The South Downs Way is Britain's first long distance bridleway, it covers the entire 160km length of the Downs following the old routes of ancient man. The route provides visitors with the opportunity "to get away from it all" without having to travel too far. The undulating route provides a wonderful trip for long distance riders as well as walkers. In addition to the Way itself, there are numerious other footpaths and bridleways linking the surrounding countryside and villages to the Way.

Aerial Sports

The height of the downs plus the undulating terrain and thermals from the English Channel make the South Downs an ideal place to hang glide, paraglide, fly model aircraft, or to fly kites.

Sailing & Canoeing

A number of tidal rivers flow through the Downs to the sea and are perfect for sailing or canoeing. For the more adventurous, the English Channel is only a stones throw away.

Climate

Warm in the summer, wet in the winter months, the South Downs have a typical climate of the South of England. Up high on top of the Downs, you will most likely notice a steep drop in temperature due to the windchill from the sea, so even if it's a nice sunny day, remember to take something warm to put on.

Animals

  • Rabbits - Lots of rabbits, on any walk across the Downs you will see some rabbits running for their burrows.
  • Deer - Rare to see during the day, deer tend to stick to sheltered areas of woodland.
  • Foxes - Rare to see during the day, but you may be lucky enough to see a red fox cross your path.
  • Sheep - Lots of sheep, in fields.
  • Cows - Lots of cows, but mostly on the lower land.
  • Sea Gulls - On the south face of the Downs, especially nearer the coastal areas.
  • Eagles - Very rare to see up close, but you may be lucky enough to catch one overhead scouting out field mice.
  • Owls - Heard but not seen, if you're out on the Downs at night, you will most likely hear an owl.

Britain's Newest National Park

In 2000, the British government run Countryside Agency began the process of turning the South Downs into a national park. It will incorporate a wide area of the Sussex and Hampshire Downs, including some of Britain's most important archological sites, such as Stonehenge and Avebury, as well as preserving an area much under threat from development.

In the 1960's, the East Hampshire and Sussex Downs were designated as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty by the Countryside Agency, but it is only now that the move has been made to officially recognise and manage The Downs as a National Park.

The South Downs National Park will be different from the existing British national parks. It will have more visitors and more people living within its boundary (over a million people, with over 10 million living within an hour's journey time), a higher need for landscape restoration due to more intensive agriculture (there are about 80,000 hectares of arable land within the park boundary), more development pressures and more planning applications than any other park. The park will help to create a balance between conservation and economic growth of this highly busy and prosperous area of the country.

The past few decades have seen a succession of damaging changes to The South Downs:

  • Agricultural employment in the South Downs fell by 20% between 1985 and '95.
  • Only 3% of the area remains as traditional chalk grassland.
  • 90% of the precious lowland heaths have been lost (same ref as above).
  • Historic landscape features and archaeological remains are being lost due to clearance and ploughing
  • Many ancient woodlands are in decline due to a lack of management
  • The tranquillity of the area is being lost as a result of traffic noise and other intrusions.

The challenge of the South Downs National Park Authority will be to restore downland and some of the other habitats and wildlife through positive land management and agricultural practices.

At the time of writing, The Countryside Agency has proposed a boundary for the new National Park, the boundary is expected to be agreed by the Countryside Agency Board by the end of this month.

This node written as part of the U.S. National Parks and Monuments quest.

Proposed National Parks - South Downs. http://www.countryside.gov.uk/proposednationalparks/southdowns.htm. The Countryside Agency. 17th April 2002.
South Downs Campaign. http://www.cnp.org.uk/south_downs_campaign.htm. Council for National Parks. 17th April 2002
Britain's Best Bridleway. http://www.nationaltrails.gov.uk/southdowns.htm. South East National Trails. 17th April 2002
South Downs Virtual Information Centre. http://www.vic.org.uk/. 17th April 2002

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