Friday, 9 November 2018

Astroturfing Whitehawk's nature reserve

A strange thing happened after we posted our last article about a campaign in Brighton to save a designated nature reserve on Whitehawk Hill from housing development.

All of a sudden, an apparent counter-campaign was announced, declaring that "Whitehawk says yes" to the destruction of the precious green space and its wildlife.

We say "apparent" counter-campaign because, unlike our friends around Whitehawk who are opposing the scheme, it is not at all clear that it has any real community basis. Less grassroots and more astroturf, it would seem.

The "yes" campaign has been announced by a "group" calling itself Brighton YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard  a grammatically inept attempt to come up with the opposite of Not in My Backyard. Or "No in My Backyard" as they presumably call it).

They have a Facebook group with no fewer than 17 members and on Twitter they have a mighty army of 107 followers.

Sadly for their credibility, very few of these seem to have anything to do with Brighton. Admittedly, @BrightonNimby are followed by a local renters' union (@ACORN_Brighton). But the support of @kooksbrighton, Kooks restaurant, and  ‏@gastrobrighton, a writer specialising in "Brighton's gastro scene", seem somehow less relevant to the cause...

We could find just three other followers who say they are from Brighton.

The first of these is Jonny Anstead (@JonnyAnstead). He declares: "I build homes with TOWN (@wetweettown) and live in Brighton". TOWN is a London-based development company, which is itself also one of the select band of @BrightonNimby's Twitter followers.

The second is Brighton resident Nick Jacob (@nickNJjacob) who works for GlobalCapital magazine.

The third is Rico Wojtulewicz (@Rico4Hove). Conservative candidate for Central Hove, Wojtulewicz also happens to be the senior policy advisor for the House Builders Association (HBA), the housebuilding division of the National Federation of Builders.

The business connection to @BrightonNimby is strong. They are followed by a swathe of professional urbanists and organisations interested in "regeneration and development".

Apart from property firm TOWN, there is also King & Co (@KingandCompany) "a residential property developer based in Hatfield, Hertfordshire".

Another follower is Meaning Conference (@MeaningConf ) "the annual gathering for people who believe business can and must be a force for positive change in our dynamic and volatile world" which is taking place in Brighton on November 15, 2018.

There also seems to be a certain overlap with the PricedOut campaign for more housebuilding. @PricedOutUK was the first Twitter account to follow @BrightonNimby.

Reuben Young (@TheReubenYoung) of PricedOut and former director Duncan Stott (@DuncanStott),  a "geeky liberal", "YIMBY" and "Brit living in America", were also quick to follow.

Most of all, @BrightonNimby is followed by other "Yimby" twitter accounts from the UK and elsewhere.

Well, by "elsewhere" we mean the USA, where there seems to be a surprising level of support for @BrightonYimby and their heroic struggle to concrete over the Whitehawk Hill nature reserve.

Among the many American followers are Santa Cruz YIMBY (@SantaCruzYIMBY) which brazenly admits it is "advocating for the construction of all types of housing development in Santa Cruz County".

There is also one Jesse Kanson-Benanav (@jessekb) who terms himself "YIMBY warrior for more housing" and is "affordable housing developer" at @BBHousing. This turns out to be "B'nai B'rith Housing", which builds "non-sectarian housing, both affordable and mixed income", in Greater Boston, USA.

On the surface, @BrightonNimby's followers seem to reflect a range of political positions. There is Daniel Francis (@danfrancis02) Labour group leader in the London Borough of Bexley; Alex Wagner (@Jenkinsite) chair of Shrewsbury Lib Dems and former Tory councillor Chris Howell (@moufflon).

More eccentrically, there is Phil Ryan (@therealphilryan) who terms himself a "Radical centrist. Globalist shill".

But the real affiliation of the YIMBY movement is not actually political in the usual sense of the word.

Take, for example, East of England YIMBY (@EofEYimby ) and their statement that they are "bringing developers and communities together".

Hackney YIMBY (@HackneyYIMBY) are even more explicit when they come out as "Pro-development, Pro-growth".

This is the crunch line, straight from the mouth of one of the UK "YIMBY" groups. Pro-growth means pro-profit, pro-money-making.

When we consider the large number of property developers associated with the YIMBY cause, we are left with the suspicion that all their talk about helping young people afford housing is nothing but spin, masking the age-old desire to make a quick buck.

Making money isn't a political belief or principle. It is a total lack of principle. It is just self-interest of the lowest kind, made even lower by the pretence that it is something else, an altruistic concern for the well-being of other people.

In the USA, the YIMBY "movement" is already being exposed. Truthout magazine, for instance, reported: 'The YIMBYs’ “build, build, build' platform only stands to benefit a fortunate few".

It highlights the role of "pro-development activist" Sonja Trauss, who this week lost an election battle in San Francisco after more than a year of pushing "aggressive pro-development policies" in City Hall.

Says Truthout: "Entrenched online in the libertarian strongholds of Reddit and TechCrunch, and in the real world through real estate- and tech-sponsored nonprofits like SPUR and YIMBY Action, Trauss’s followers live by the neoliberal belief that deregulation and building more housing, even if it’s only affordable to the richest of the rich, will trickle down and eventually make housing affordable for all."

And it reveals that North America’s first YIMBY convening, YIMBY2016, was funded by property development groups, such as the National Association of Realtors and the Boulder Area Realtor Association.

In fact the article's headline itself tells us all we need to know, and what the people of Whitehawk and Brighton need to understand about the "campaign" being launched to deprive them of their green space: "YIMBYs: The Darlings of the Real Estate Industry".

Monday, 5 November 2018

Save Whitehawk Hill Nature Reserve!

Whitehawk Hill is a Down, right in Brighton, an ancient and sacred landscape and high quality landscape which should be in the National Park & have full landscape & species protection.(in fact a full council meeting voted for its inclusion, only to be followed by a small meeting vetoing that 'democratic' vote). It is a statutory Local Nature reserve, a Common, statutory Access land under the CROW Act and an Ancient Neolithic Scheduled Monument. It's pretty special.

Brighton & Hove Council have chosen part of the Nature Reserve for a housing development of 217 1 & 2 bed flats, in 5 blocks, 6 & 8 storey. An "Urban Fringe Assessment" was drawn up in 2014, identifying greenfield sites for housing. One site, Craven Vale Allotments, also on this Nature Reserve, jumped into action and ran a successful campaign and the site was removed. Whitehawk has only just realised the threat which the council tells us is a done deal, that we are too late. 
We are not.

BHCC has gone into partnership with the hawkish landlords Hyde, link to a Corporate Watch article below if you're interested. 

Locals have called Public Meeting:

Monday, 12 November from 19:00-21:00
St Cuthman's community church hall, Whitehawk Way, BN2 5HE, Brighton. 

If you love our City's wild spaces and wildlife, please try to come.

This month the World Wildlife Fund released a report which told us that wild animal populations have decreased globally by 60% in just 48 years - since 1970.

This profoundly endangers the future quality of human life.

This is not a far-away problem. It is on our doorstep.

If we are to halt and reverse this extinction process, the protection of every LOCAL high-value space for wildlife is a categorical imperative.

The need to protect nature is co-equal with the need for high quality, low-cost housing for all.

We must find solutions which protect those two imperatives.


We have heard ourselves called 'NIMBYS' (selfish people who say 'Not In My Back Yard' to developments).

Perhaps the Londoners who successfully campaigned against the destruction of Epping Forest, Hampstead Heath, Tooting Common or Walthamstow Marsh were 'nimbys' ??

Perhaps the pre-war Brighton folk who campaigned against new housing on top of the Devils Dyke and Ditchling Downs were nimbys ?

Perhaps the pre-war Eastbourne folk who campaigned against new towns on Beachy Head, Seven Sisters and Birling Gap were nimbys ??

If the breaking up of the Whitehawk Hill Local Nature Reserve goes ahead then nothing will off-limits...nothing will be sacrosanct.

If Whitehawk Hill is broken, then there is no reason why Castle Hill National Nature Reserve, or the Local Nature Reserves of the Wild Park, Bevendean Down, Stanmer, Benfield Hill, Beacon Hill and Withdean Woods should not be broken, too.

Top pundits (like Anthony Seldon) have already called for this (as with his call for building on the whole Hollingbury Hill inlier).

The breaking of Whitehawk Hill WILL mean the future breaking of other sacrosanct sites...and will further encourage that process nationally.

Brighton's attitude to the protection of its Downs has always been contradictory.

Its pre-war council leader, Herbert Carden, both bought the Devils Dyke to protect it from housing development and campaigned for a major motor racing track between the Dyke and Portslade which would have destroyed all its Downs.

Its erstwhile Labour leader, Steve Bassam, attempted to flog off its hugely important 13,000 acre Downland Estate and opposed the creation of the new South Downs National Park, despite Labour Environment Minister Michael Meacher proposing it. (Steve B later changed his mind on both

Now Brighton's draft City Plan both calls for the protection of its Local Nature Reserves and Local Wildlife Sites and suggests ripping the heart out of the Whitehawk Hill LNR.

Whitehawk Hill is as important to Brighton as the Royal Pavilion


----     ----     ----     ----
A Right to Roam comrade had sited our first briefing here -

Dave Bangs' book on the Hill * free PDF* -

Council's blurb on the Hill -

Corporate Watch report on Hyde -

The housing proposal  -

Sunday, 20 November 2016

December 3 protest at Beachy Head

A new protest date has been announced by campaigners battling the sell-off of Eastbourne's beautiful downland.

People are being urged to meet at 10.30am sharp on Saturday December 3 2016 at Beachy Head visitor centre for a rally and walk. Facebook users can get more info here.

On Wednesday November 16 more than 100 people protested outside a council meeting at the town hall (photo above). See these local media reports:

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Protest against downland sell-off!

Eastbourne Town Hall

A protest is being held in Sussex against the sell-off of public land in the South Downs National Park.

Downs lovers are urged to gather outside Eastbourne Town Hall in Grove Road, BN21 4UG, on Wednesday November 16 2016, from 5pm.

The threat to Eastbourne's countryside comes at the same time as Brighton Council's underhand privatisation of its downland and outrage at this betrayal of our natural heritage is rapidly spreading across Sussex.

Protest organisers Eastbourne and district Friends of the Earth warn: "Eastbourne Borough Council intends to sell off most of the Eastbourne Downland Estate, putting at grave risk the rich nature and wildlife heritage of downland that was originally purchased by the council on behalf of Eastbourne residents for them to enjoy 'in perpetuity'.

"Please join us outside Eastbourne Town Hall, just before a full council meeting of Eastbourne Borough Council, to protest against this flogging off of a precious community asset. Once it's sold, it's gone for ever!

"Bring a placard or banner, if you can, and/or something that reminds people of how precious our Eastbourne downland is. Also, please contact your local councillor and MP too, to let them know how you feel about losing part of what makes Eastbourne great!"

Facebook users can find out more info here. Meanwhile, below, Keep Our Downs Public set out the history and possible future of Eastbourne's downland.

Since when have we owned  the Eastbourne Downland Estate?  
The estate was bought by the borough in 1929, after an enabling Act of Parliament was passed in 1926. All the Downland within the Eastbourne Council’s political boundary is within the estate ... the entire coastal strip, from Holywell and Beachy Head to Belle Tout near Birling Gap, north by the edge of East Dean and on up to Bourne Hill and Butt’s Brow above Willingdon, and the entire western edge of the town.  

Why was it bought?

It was acquired to “secure the free and open use of the Downs in perpetuity”. This public ownership thus saved the Eastbourne downland from building development, restrictive fencing and ploughing up. It also protected the drinking water supply and the ancient, unfenced sheep walks of flower-rich ancient pastures, with gorse and thorn brakes and areas of rare ‘chalk heath’, where heathers mingled with chalk-loving flowers.

The early days continued the traditional farming, provision and management of public access, including a ranger on horseback to patrol the area, advise the public and work with the tenant farmers. [See these Pathé News videos from 1949 and 1957.]
However, post-war agricultural intensification damaged and destroyed much of those open and free pastures, and some of the memory of them faded. 

In the 1980s, rising pollution levels in the aquifer and shrinking internationally rare chalk grassland, due to ploughing and cliff erosion, led to a programme of landscape restoration. This resulted in the reversion of significant areas of arable to permanent grass, reduced nitrate levels in the water supply, extended and joined-up chalk grassland habitat, with increased open access and rich archaeological sites preserved under grass. This had strong political support from the town’s councillors (championed by leader Maurice Skilton), was carried through by willing officers (led by finance and downland chief, David Hazelden) and had full support from partners.

The new strategy for the estate revived the original principle of the 1920s acquisition and began to address the financial problems and marginalisation. The main thrust of the initiative was to take direct control of part of Bullock Down Farm and Cornish Farm, re-seed the arable with downland wildflowers, take down fences and link up areas of grassland for landscape gain and effective grazing management, open the coastal areas to public access, and employ a ranger and two shepherds to manage two municipal flocks of sheep. The estate was newly signed to proclaim the new resources we could enjoy.


What are its measurements?

The public estate is 4,200 acres. It is 4.7 miles from south to north, and 2.5 miles in width at its widest point. There are four working farms: Chalk Farm, Willingdon, 591 acres; Black Robin Farm, 1,012.5 acres, south of the A259 road; Bullock Down Farm, 495 acres, behind Beachy Head; and Cornish Farm, 1,085 acres, NE of Birling Gap. They total 3183 acres...and this is what is for sale – 75.8% of the estate.

The whole of the 4.5 mile wooded and grassy scarp slope from Combe Hill, south to Beachy Head is in the estate, as are all the cliffs and their hinterland from Holywell, Eastbourne to beyond Belle Tout Lighthouse. 

What treasures does it protect?

The following designations are NATIONAL and STATUTORY. However, designated sites are NOT adequately protected by such designations and do not necessarily mean positive management results, many are in poor condition, but recoverable in public hands, but far greater risk in unaccountable private hands.

The coast is part of the iconic nationally defined Sussex Heritage Coast, which recognises the undeveloped coastline, very rare in the built-up south-east of England.

The estate contains 32 separately designated Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAMs). The four farms contain a large proportion of those SAMs including the most important of all: the Combe Hill Neolithic Causewayed Camp, as well as the much-researched Bullock Down prehistoric field system, the Eastdean Down field system, and many prehistoric burial barrows.

The estate contains all the eastern part of the Seaford Head to Beachy Head Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), including seashore, cliffs, and cliff-top archaic chalk grassland and scrub, and eastern scarp chalk grassland scrub and woodland.

Two separate parts of that SSSI, Bulling Dean and Kiln Combe are within the for-sale Bullock Down Farm. They are the southern stronghold for the nationally rare Moon Carrot, Seseli libanotis.

The estate also contains the for-sale Willingdon Downs SSSI, a large and substantial area of internationally rare archaic chalk grassland.

What are the threats?

These threats are LEGION and cannot all be anticipated because new ones come in all the time: loss of the farms to well-off life-style owners by conversion and new building or inappropriate livery grazing – all potentially threatening the landscape and open public access with a proliferation of fencing, sheds and other buildings, jumps and clutter, lights, security cameras, new tracks; intensive viticulture, with its high fences and chemical pollution risks to the ground-water and spray residues; extended game bird management, with exclusions, rearing pens, alien plantings etc; abandonment of farming and conservation management, threatening species-rich chalk grassland; large industrialised energy schemes such as solar arrays & wind turbines...

New private owners will be far more interested in either excluding the public or making us pay for their visitor attractions. The story of the privatisation of Mary Farm on the Brighton Downland, or the fate of all the sold-off Forestry Commission woods is ample evidence of that.


The Eastbourne estate is a major public asset for its people, with annual income, a guaranteed revenue stream, forever. You can only sell your crown jewels once, what happens in 10 or 20 years’ time when the council is looking for more money?

The original aims of the estate in the 1920s, those same aims revived by Eastbourne Council in 1980s and by the new South Downs National Park will be lost forever if sold.

Let's switch this around, save these Downs “in perpetuity” ... a free, public, open, wildlife-rich, pastoral landscape, emblematic of the freedom and oneness with nature which we all seek. People of Eastbourne and surrounding area treasure their precious downland, elected councillors need to respect this and take action, to stop the sale and instruct officers to continue the positive programme of continued landscape restoration and enhanced public access, bringing redundant buildings into appropriate uses (education, visitor facilities etc) and benign farm diversification, linking the tenant farmers who are managing this public estate on behalf of the residents, the people who are the local consumers of the food, water and other benefits the land provides.

Funding / finance

The stark choice is: one-off capital receipt now, once sold income lost forever; or, an imaginative plan to maintain and enhance the annual revenue accruing from the downland. 

The scope is huge, from the million or more people who visit Beachy Head each year to helping improve the offer the farms can make and a firm working relationship with partners such as the National Park Authority, National Trust and others.

There are attractive grant opportunities: lottery (Brighton & Hove has a £5m project bid in for part of its Downs), Local Enterprise Partnership (Hampshire County Council has a bid in to re-vamp some of its downland visitor assets).

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

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Threatened by Gatwick


by David Bangs
Naturalist and author (

Rush meadow, Willoughby Fields

The countryside directly threatened by the proposal for a Gatwick second runway is a patchwork of loved urban fringe green spaces, ancient landscape features, and wildlife sites with huge ecological continuity and cultural importance.

The countryside of the upper River Mole is a flat land, a landscape of horizontals. This is the source of its tranquillity, its restfulness. At its core it is punctuated only by curtains of tall trees (shaws) and their verticality brings a feeling of dignity to the land, like the dignity of a civic hall, or an ancient church, mosque, or temple. Calm restfulness and dignity... these are the feelings which this Low Wealden countryside especially brings to us. And in this vale of the Mole these landscape features – flatness, the freely wandering river, the curtains of tall trees – are at their very best.

Nowhere else in the central Low Weald combines this thoroughgoing flatness with this heavy timbering of ancient shaws to the degree found in Langley Green and Charlwood’s countryside – not in the upper waters of the Arun, the Adur, the Medway or the Ouse.

Wildwood relic – Small Leaved Lime on the Mole bank


The jewel in the crown of this countryside is the wooded River Mole and the farming and recreational landscape of meadow and shaw that surrounds it, north of Langley Green at Willoughby Fields, Amberley Farm, Bonnet’s Lane, and Lowfield Heath.


THE MOLE RIVER WOOD. Both banks of the river Mole between Ifield Avenue Bridge and the Airport perimeter road are graced by an archaic linear wood – over a mile long – which supports many ancient woodland herbs and woody species. In our partial surveys we have counted 23 such species of high indicative value, and this figure rises to 26 with the inclusion of species growing in adjacent shaws. This linear river wood has a scatter of Small Leaved Limes, a rare species of exceptional indicative value.

ANCIENT WOODLAND PLANTS. Here is the list of special ancient woodland species... Black Bryony, Bluebell, Bush Vetch, Cherry (Gean), Crab Apple, Field Rose, Guelder Rose, Hart’s Tongue Fern, Holly, Hornbeam, Maple, Midland Thorn, Moschatel (Dutchman’s Clock), Pendulous Sedge, Pignut, Primrose, Ramsons (Wild Garlic), Remote Sedge, Soft Shield Fern, Small Leaved Lime, Wood Anemone (Windflower), Wood Club Rush, Yellow Archangel. Adjacent shaws additionally have... Three Veined Sandwort, Wild Service Tree, Wood Melick. There will be more we have missed...

‘FOSSIL MEANDERS’. This stretch of the Mole retains many of its ancient meanders, and others are ‘fossilised’ within adjacent fields. The little ‘Oxbow Wood’ west of Amberley Farmstead, TQ 258/9 390, preserves such a ‘cut-off’ or ‘oxbow’ meander. There is Ramsons (Wild Garlic) and Midland Thorn on the old banks, and Gipsywort in the mud of the lost meander. The meadow next to (northeast of) the Oxbow Wood also has a ‘fossil’ meander preserved as a marshy depression. There is part of a ‘fossil’ meander within the Willoughby Field Nature Reserve, TQ 255 386. Mind the thorns getting there! There are others both north and south of the river.

A NEW ‘COUNTY OAK’. Part of the Mole bank at Amberley Farm, and the shaw that runs from the bank behind the farmhouse, mark the historic county boundary. In the shaw is a fine veteran Oak pollard on that boundary that passes muster as a new
‘County Oak’. Near to it is on the County boundary is the ‘Woodpecker Oak’, a fine standard with a stack of at least four nest holes, noisily inhabited this year by a Green Woodpecker family. The part of the Mole bank which lies on the historic county boundary has a Small Leaved Lime maiden which could grow into a ‘County Lime’.

WALKING THE RIVER BED. It is a magic place. The river-bed runs in a tunnel of trees between lush green banks, hidden from view. Pools and shafts of sunlight make the lush greenery glow and the rippling water twinkle. Beautiful Demoiselles (sort of Dragonflies with blue/violet males and bronze females) flit across these watery glades. You could be in the primeval wildwood, or the jungle. In the summer, when water levels are low, it is possible to walk along large parts of the river bed. If you are lucky a patrolling Kingfisher may flash by – a blue streak of light. You hear the clatter of alarmed ducks starting away round the next bend. Parts of the river bed are made of hard plates of rock which make sills over which the water trickles in tiny waterfalls. Where the wet rocks are exposed tribes of iridescent green White Tipped Signal Wing Flies hop about, the males waving their wings frantically to attract the females... you’ve gotta laugh. Elsewhere there is gravel, and you may find an old Duck Mussel shell. In some spots there are ‘felt’ mats of the red rootlets of Willow and Sallow. On the damp, shaded banks are primitive plants scarce changed from before the age of the dinosaurs: Greasewort, Great Scented Liverwort, Dotted Thyme Moss, Harts Tongue Thyme Moss.


Southern Marsh Orchid. Photo by Crystal Ray
The cluster of unimproved and part-improved meadows north of Langley Green is an extraordinary survival. Judged conservatively, some 11 meadows survive in an archaic state and at least four others have areas of archaic meadow vegetation. (The only archaic meadow clusters on the Wealden Clay of the central Weald which approach that number of fields are Burstow Meadows, NNW of Burstow church, e.g. TQ 308 418, and Bedelands Farm Meadows, Burgess Hill, e.g. TQ 319 206, with 8 and 9 fields respectively. The Burstow cluster is also at risk from the thrust of development of the Gatwick corridor, and the Bedelands Farm LNR may well be surrounded by new built development, if current plans come to fruition.)

The extant meadows of Amberley Farm tend to a different character from those around Willoughby Fields. The Amberley Farm meadows are traditional hay meadows, some with great colour and diversity of wild flowers. The rare Southern Marsh Orchis – glowing carmine red – was present this year, with Spotted Orchis, Grass Vetchling (also carmine red) and much colour from Vetches, Trefoils, Clovers, Knapweed and Buttercups. There are many kinds of grasses, too. Sweet Vernal Grass dominates in springtime, and Yorkshire Fog and Bent Grass in high summer.

The Willoughby Fields meadows are largely wet rush pastures, with much Soft Rush and Compact Rush, Yorkshire Fog, and Creeping Buttercup, as well as Ladies Smock (Milkmaids), Common Spotted Orchis and Oval Sedge. The colours modulate though yellow and coppery greens, browns, dark, almost Prussian greens, fawns and leaf greens, splashed white from Dropwort umbels and yellow from Trefoils and Buttercups. There is a small and jewel-like fragment of old flower meadow in the crook of a Mole meander at TQ 255 388, with Yellow Rattle, Crosswort and much Bird’s Foot Trefoil. Several riverside meadows are succeeding to woodland, though archaic grassland survives within one of them.

There are Green Veined White butterflies in spring and Common Blues, Browns and Skippers in summer. In the damp winter you may see a ghostly white Egret on watch. Several of the Willoughby Fields meadows have a pattern of parallel gullies, perhaps from past drainage attempts, or past cultivation.

Some of the fields are corrugated by irregular depressions, perhaps from lost ponds, drainage channels or even diggings. There are old farm ponds in several field corners, now vegetating up, but with Flote Grass, tadpoles, Water Crowfoot and Marsh Bedstraw still present. Two of the Willoughby Fields Nature Reserve meadows are managed as rugby pitches (as are two more outside the reserve), but their boundary shaws are respected, and one has old meadow along its margin with special wildflowers, like Pignut.


The ancient field pattern of outgrown hedges and shaws around the Mole and the Langley Green Brook has been preserved intact to a very high degree. In the areas of Willoughby Fields and Amberley Farm this field pattern is almost wholly intact, ‘preserved in aspic’ despite the passing of at least 140 years (in this area a copy of the circa 1870 First Edition Ordance Survey map, six inch to one mile, could be laid over the current Ordnance Survey map and the two would match exactly over large parts. and probably much longer.)

These shaws support stands of the handsomest maiden Oaks, and much Ash and Maple. Their understory is of Hazel, Blackthorn, Hawthorn, Holly and Sallow. They support, too, scarce Wild Service Tree, Midland Thorn, Crab Apple, Hornbeam, Guelder Rose and Field Rose. The scarce Brown Hairstreak, whose caterpillars live on the abundant Blackthorn, and Speckled Wood, are their special butterflies. In springtime they have abundant Bluebells and are daisy-white with Greater Stitchwort. Then they are full of the music of Song Thrush and Warblers, Nightingale, too, occasionally. Yellowhammers breed there.


Lowfield Heath largely preserves the pattern of field, hedge and shaw laid down at enclosure of the common in 1846. The sub-landscape has escaped all the stripping out of these features which most large scale enclosure landscapes (as in eastern England) have catastrophically suffered.

The field edge trees commonly date from the post-enclosure decades, and strips of post-enclosure mixed woodland have grown up to enrich this picture. Much of the footprint of the old common is tilled productively.

Just beyond the south end of Poles Lane, TQ 265 391, is an area of much older tiny fields (crofts). They were probably enclosed from Lowfield Heath Common circa 1700 or earlier – some 150 years before its main enclosure, for County Oak Cottage, there, is dated 1705, and its barn may be even older.

Wild Service Tree and Hornbeam are present in the hedgerows and shaws, with fine Oaks. The fields are largely managed for hay and for horse grazing. The boundaries of the old common can be traced in part from the location of the pre-enclosure farms and cottages, once located on the common’s edge, but now set back from the ruler-straight surveyor’s roads: – Charlwood House (17th century), Spikemead Farmhouse (1604), Poles Acre Barn (17th century), County Oak Cottage (1705 or before), Gatwick Manor (15th century).

At least one field gives us a flavour of the vegetation of Lowfield Heath common before its 1846 enclosure. Lowfield Heath Rush Pasture, TQ 269 392, lies just west of the A23 and northeast of Little Dell. It has a Sallow fringe, with large patches of Tufted Hair Grass, Soft Rush, and Sweet Grass within a matrix of shorter sward, with Creeping Buttercup and Cinquefoil. It is flat, but with shallow corrugations, and very wet in winter.


Pollard oak, Rowley Green
Rowley Farm, TQ 279 396, sits on a mountain, for that is how its low hill, 77m/252ft high, feels in all the placid horizontality of the Vale of the Mole.

Though it is only some 17m/56ft above the level of the airport runway its winding ascent opens up fine views beyond the Airport to the wooded Weald as far as the scarp of the North Downs... and to nearby Lowfield church spire, otherwise hidden from nearer view by tall airport clutter.

Rowley Hill is a viewpoint that re-connects the viewer to the wider and older landscape... to the earlier and more profound geographies of river floodplain, wooded Weald and the embrace of the chalk downs. This is a viewpoint to be celebrated, not further eroded or destroyed.

Much that is ancient survives at this place. Both north and east of the Farm the ancient boundaries of Rowley Green can still be traced by fences and trees, and a paddock east of the Lodge, TQ 278 399, retains a smidgeon of the Green’s archaic vegetation.

In front of the hovel opposite the Lodge are two fine veteran Oak pollards, both hollow and spilt, but in rude health. There is a further pollard Oak of great character – burry and gnarled – on the hilltop where the farmhouse north drive splits from the bridleway. The timber framed Farmhouse, TQ 279 396, is Elizabethan – perhaps 450 years old – and the weatherboarded Great Barn is even older – late medieval. The Row‘ley’ (woodland glade) place name (in the countryside at risk from a second runway are a cluster of ancient ‘ley’ place names, which have this meaning of an ‘open space within extensive woodland’: – Langley, Amberley, Tinsley, Rowley, Horley. They demonstrate that large scale ancient woodland survived very late in this area.) indicates the erstwhile presence of tracts of ancient woodland, from which, perhaps, first the Green and then the tilled fields were carved.

The field pattern is mostly intact to the east, but has been lost on the west slope of the hill. Huntsgreen Wood, to the northeast, TQ 283 399 is ancient, with fine Oak standards. It is a classic wet Wealden Clay wood, with much Bramble and Nettle, perhaps because of previous grazing. Rowley Wood, to the south, TQ 279 392, is also ancient. It is a Bluebell wood of Oak, Ash, and Birch, over Hazel coppice, and with some Sweet Chestnut. It is an SNCI (Site of Nature Conservation Importance).

West of Crawter’s Brook, e.g, TQ 274 394, the old pattern of hedges and shaws is almost intact, with views north across the Oaks and Ashes to the spire of Lowfield Church. It is a delightful place. Part of the land is cattle grazed (from Rowley), part is horse pasture and hay meadow, part is mixed woodland, part is the lovely grounds of Gatwick Manor, and part is business parking. At least one Rushy Pasture, TQ 273/4 395/6, has a high level of naturalness, with Cutleaf Evergreen Blackberry (big, juicy, extratasty berries), Male Fern, Fleabane, St John’s Wort, and Bird’s Foot Trefoil. The shaw along its eastern boundary has Crab Apple, Midland Thorn, Maple and Sloe. At its north end, abutting the Airport Perimeter Road, a fossil meander of the straightened Crawter’s Brook is visible, with Spotted Orchis and other old meadow species.



Though Bonnet’s Lane can be busy with traffic it still retains the character of a winding Low Wealden lane, shaded by shaws, an ancient wood, hedgerows and trees.

At the Lane’s southern junction with Charlwood Road is Stafford Green, TQ 250 384/5, which still, in part, retains its archaic wet pasture vegetation. It is a remarkable survival of the once-continuous roadside ‘waste’ between the two linked commons of Ifield Wood and Ifield Green. In spring it is decorated with Ladies Smock/Milkmaids (and Garden Daffodils!) and in early summer its western side has a lovely display of Marsh Woundwort and Meadowsweet, Codlins and Cream and Water Dropwort, with much Spiked Sedge.

To the east of Bonnet’s Lane are sheep and horse pastures dropping gently down to the Mole. Many of the fine old hedges survive. Many of the fields are Buttercup meadows, and, near to the Mole and the scrambler bike trail, the meadows have much Grass Vetchling.

At the south end of the Lane, just east of Stafford House, is a brook meadow, TQ 252 384, with old anthills and fine 150-200 year old Oaks on its northern boundary. Just to the north, between the Bonnet’s Lane houses and the river is a wooded-over brook meadow and cut-off meander, TQ 254 387, a fine bird refuge, sheltering an especially secluded length of the Mole.

Bonnets Copse, TQ 253 390, is an ancient Bluebell wood, with many shallow pits, making a wet, irregular surface. There are many young Oak standards and scattered Hornbeam stools, a peppering of Scot’s Pine, and a good sub-shrub layer of Bramble, with abundant Blackthorn and Broad Buckler Fern.

At the north end of Bonnet’s Lane, just over the old county boundary into Surrey, is an archaic Rushand-Tufted Hair Grass pasture, TQ 253 395. Once probably part of the old Westfield Common, it gives some indication of that common’s historic vegetation. Wet and tussocky, it has big Tufted Hair Grass swarms, Spiked Sedge, Compact and Soft Rush, Tall Fescue and Water Dropwort. Water Mint is fragrant underfoot... A lovely wild place.


North of Charlwood Road: swallows, rooks, martins, skylarks
North of the Charlwood Road, between Bonnet’s Lane and the Ifield Road, is the site of the late medieval Ifield Deer Park, commemorated by the Little Park Farm place name. Enclosed by the late 17th century, its site has since been an area of small fields, wooded shaws and hedges, with secondary woods now of a good age.

West of the airport runway many of these old landscape features have been lost to modern agribusiness in recent decades, but to the south the majority are still intact.

The mansion of Ifield Hall is now demolished, but its parkland and outbuildings are partly intact, with some archaic grassland south of the drive, TQ 250 387, and a fine three span girth veteran Oak to its north, as well as mature shaws along the Charlwood Road and Bonnet’s Lane.

Just north west of the old Hall is Ifield Hall Wood, TQ 248 390. Perhaps a century old, this wood has mature mixed plantings of Oak, Lime, Horse Chestnut, Beech, Sycamore and Maple, with small numbers of other species. Plainly much loved, it is used for woodcraft activities.

Bluebells are ingressing from the western footpath, thus showing that that path may once have been linear old woodland. Furze Field, TQ 246/7 391, is a low wood, thus demonstrating its scrubby origins. It had small Oaks, Ash, Spindle, and Blackthorn, and its boundary ditches have Yellow Flag, Marsh Thistle and Marsh Bedstraw.

The enclosed fields along the Charlwood Road are horse pastures, and the fields to the north are part sheep pastures, part tilled land, surrounded by well-vegetated ditches with stands of tall herbs and bushes.

Despite the roar of aircraft taking off, this is a place where Skylarks sing, Swallows sweep low over the fields, Martins flock high above our heads, and Rooks rise from the woods in companionable hubbub.


East of the London-Brighton Railway as far as the M23 the landscape’s finest features are its lattice of woodlands, both ancient and secondary. Horleyland Wood and Picketts Wood are ancient, and Picketts Wood is close-linked with adjoining secondary woods, such as Upper Pickett’s Wood, and old shaws and species-rich hedgerows.

Horleyland Wood, TQ 289 405, is a lovely old Hazel-Oak-Birch wood, carpetted with Bluebells in spring and Bracken in the summer. The golden apples of its Crab tree grove decorate the ground through winter. Its Oaks are fine standards. It is an SNCI. Yet it is surrounded on all sides by airport car parks, balancing ponds, the railway, and the giant sewage works, whose stench hangs in the air through the western wood. It is a ‘precious fragment’ surrounded by hostile land uses, and its plight only emphasises how unsatisfactory such site preservation is when the supporting landscape context is ripped out.

Fish in the newly constructed pond there swim away to cover whenever loud aircraft thunder overhead... Is that the way to live for fish or people?

Picketts Wood on Picketts Lane, TQ 295 407, is a lovely open, Brackeny wood, with Gean (Cherry), Hazel, Hornbeam and Bluebells. To its south, TQ 295 402, Upper Pickett’s Wood’s proximity to these ancient woods has enabled it to acquire a rich old woodland flora with orchids, Wood Sedge, Primroses and Bluebells.

Thanks to conservation efforts, some archaic meadow fragments survive, such as the attractive wet rush meadow east of Rolls Farm Lane, TQ 294 398, and the meadow adjoining Upper Picketts, TQ 295/6 403/4, where succession to woodland is partly halted by lopping.

The ancient field pattern is no longer readily visible, and there have been large recent losses, for instance north of Oldlands Farm, e.g. TQ 288 399, but more survives than meets the eye, subsumed as boundaries of the fragments of Picketts Woods, the backs of the Balcombe Road house plots, along the surviving green lanes, such as Picketts Lane, and left tokenistically within the sprawl of Airport car parks.

There are fine old Oaks on the lane to Horleyland Wood and the site of Old Rolls Farm, TQ 293/4 404. There are two good veteran Oak pollards, both with Beefsteak Fungus, on Picketts Lane where it bounds Picketts Wood, TQ 296 406, and another fine hollow Oak pollard on the green lane to the north, TQ 293 409.

To the east of the Balcombe Road the post-enclosure field boundaries of old Horley Common are largely intact around Fern Hill and Peeks Brook Lane. Gorse and Sallow in the hedgelines, and the tiny squatters and post-enclosure cottages of Donkey Lane, TQ 299 412, remind us of the area’s past as heathy common (as does its original name: Fern Hill). Indeed, this sub-landscape, divided now by the M23 slip road, is the only part of the footprint of the once-gigantic Horley Common to remain as open land. This common was, till the eighteenth century, by far the largest of the Commons of the upper Mole vale... larger by far than the Redhill-Earlswood Commons, Holmwood, or Copthorne Common.

Pollard oak, Picketts Lane


Gatwick Airport’s Options Two and Three will wholly eliminate the high value landscape between the current airport and the northern edge of Crawley’s built-up area. Only a thin strip of urban fringe open space will survive (chiefly, the Cherry Lane Recreation Ground and perhaps 5 horse pasture fields).

Option One will, instead, split these high value landscapes in two, destroying the northern half of the Langley Green, Lowfield Heath and Rowley Farm countryside, and eliminating the tranquillity of the remaining half. The integrity of the key landscape features (the course of the River Mole, the historic field pattern, Rowley Hill) will be destroyed.

All three Options will eliminate the post-enclosure landscape of Fernhill and what remains of the Horleyland and Picketts Lane landscape. Only ‘precious fragments’, such as Horleyland Wood and Picketts Wood, will remain.


All three options will massively ratchet up the process of destruction of the Low Wealden countryside, not just in the northern section (in south east Surrey and north Sussex) but in the southern (Sussex) section. Thus, all three options will bring a huge new housing requirement equivalent to a major new town, and greatly intensified pressures on the existing transport network, water requirements, et al.

All three options will massively erode the tranquillity and integrity of surviving countryside, with increased noise pollution and fragmentation of remaining rural sub-landscapes.

In closest proximity, such wonderful sites as Ifield Wood Common, the Burstow Meadows, the Burstow church hamlet, and the Copthorne Common Meadows will be at greatly added risk. At a wider distance, the outstanding Rusper Ridgelands (the parallel ridges along the Sussex county border) with their dense cover of woodlands, gills, shaws and ancient fields) will lose much of their conservation value under the pressure of noise pollution and development. Development pressure will redouble on the lower vale of the Mole, and the upper vale of the River Arun (including Billingshurst).