Friday, 4 November 2016

Exposed: council is secretly selling off our Downs!

A new threat to the Sussex countryside has been exposed by campaigners from Keep Our Downs Public (KODP).

Brighton Council is secretly selling off parts of the South Downs National Park which should have remained in public hands for ever.

It has not even informed the public about what it is doing with our land, let alone sought any sort of consensus - so much for democracy!

Brighton tried to do the same thing in 1995, but was thwarted by the campaigners. In 2009 Worthing Borough Council also tried to sell off public land on the slopes of Cissbury Ring, but was forced to stop after massive public outcry (see this report in The Acorn).

Protests like this stopped Worthing council from selling off Sussex downland in 2009

Eastbourne Borough Council is also currently planning to sell off part of its downland in the National Park near Beachy Head - a worrying trend for all lovers of the Sussex rural heritage (see this report from the South Downs Society).

Brighton Council's 2016 sell-off plans include parts of nationally important Sites of Special Scientific Interest; one site contains a Scheduled Ancient Monument; and one is a superb fossil site. 

Said KODP: "We do not believe that councillors are aware of the nature or implications of these sales. The Brighton Downland Estate, at more than 12,000 acres, is the largest and most important public asset within the new South Downs National Park. 

"These sales are taking place without public consultation, decided in confidential Council Committees. We have little detail, though we understand the justification is to part-fund the Stanmer Park restoration and gain general revenue.

"These sales open the door to privatisation of Brighton’s entire Downland Estate. Without democratic public accountability we must expect threats to public usage, neglect, damage to important wildlife habitat, inappropriate development, and more shooting and hunting."

The KODP campaigners warn that with government pressure for local authority land sales, we are faced with the prospect of the new South Downs National Park being asset-stripped of its core publicly owned estates. This will stymie the National Park’s founding project – for the restoration of its range-grazed, wildlife-rich, chalk grassland sheepwalks – and open the door to multiple threats to the Downs landscape.  

It is known that several of the sales have gone ahead already and that several others are advertised on the open market by Savills, the council’s land agents.

Sold already - Park Wall Farm at Falmer
Two of the sites are within SSSI’s (i.e. nationally important nature conservation sites) and yet no word of this is mentioned in the sales advertisements.

The Junipers, the old Sussex Wildlife Trust Saddlescombe Nature Reserve, 3 acres, has been sold to a private buyer for the paltry sum of £35,000.

This is the bulk of the sole remaining site for Juniper (a rare and declining native conifer) in East Sussex, and a well-known site for rare orchid species, bats and much else. It is part of an SSSI.

The Devils Dyke Field has been sold for an unknown sum to a private buyer, despite being bounded by National Trust land.

Park Wall Farm smallholding, Falmer, 10 acres, has been sold for £175,000: less than the price of a modest flat in Brighton. This is a crucial part of the open Downland setting of old Falmer village.

Additionally, two nearby parcels of land on the edge of Poynings have been marketed and one of them sold with some prospect of built development. 

KODP warns there are more to come, if we can’t stop this bleed immediately... 

The Racecourse, the large, circa 55 acre Poynings arable field embracing all the land below the Devil’s Dyke, is targeted for sale. This is a wonderful fossil site – as good a Bridport Cliffs, Dorset, for fossils from the tropical seas of the Early Cretaceous, and the landing ground for Dyke hang gliders. This is the field which appears in all the Victorian postcards of the Devils Dyke.

Plumpton Hill, 67.4 acres of ancient wildflower pastures on the South Downs Way, mostly SSSI, is advertised for £150,000 – just the sort of money that a City shooting syndicate could stump up. It is a hill top Sacred Site of the Ancient People of the Bronze Age, and has five of their round barrows overlooking and protecting their deserted villages. 

Poynings Field. The landing ground for the Dyke hang-gliders, and a crucial part of the Devil’s Dyke’s landscape setting. A wonderful fossiling site, with ammonites, nautiloids, and crustaceans.

By hook or by crook these sales must be stopped now!

[Update: Keep Our Downs Public now has a Facebook group for those who want to get involved]

The South Downs - they belong to us and to generations still to come


  1. What's your plan for stopping them? Is there a petition, or protest? I would like to get involved - I live in Edinburgh but I'm from Sussex and love it dearly

  2. The campaign's only just starting, but there's a groundswell of feeling about the issue locally - watch this space for updates!

  3. If you join the Brighton and Hove Friends of the Earth group you will get updates on this campaign and others.
    There is a demonstration outside Hove Town Hall this Thursday Dec 8 at 3.30pm