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