On the 31st March 2020, the South Downs National Park will celebrate its 10th anniversary. After many years of discussion, debate and wrangling, the Confirmation Order was signed off by the Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the Nutmeg Tree Cafe, Ditchling on the 12 Nov 2009, coming into force on the 31 Mar 2010.
So, what has happened over the past 10 years?
Well, to start with, it has become the most visited UK National Park with approximately 39 million visitors per year and rising. The next most popular national park is the Lake District with only 24 million visitors per annum.
The park covers an area of 628 sq miles (1627 sq Km) from Winchester in the west to Eastbourne in the east. Geologically, it takes in the chalk hills of the South Downs and the heavily wooded sandstone, clay hills and vales of the western Weald.
Approximately, 117,00 people live within the National Park, more than in any other national park. There are 5,171 listed buildings, including 152 with a Grade 1 listing. Virtually all of the potable water is drawn from aquifers under the chalk hills, and approximately 86,000 Olympic swimming pools worth is extracted each year.
The park contains 2000 miles (3200 km) of public footpaths, bridleways, restricted byways and byways, including the entire length of the South Downs Way National Trail. The most of any national park. These public rights of way provide great opportunities for walking, cycling and horse riding. For the less strenuous outdoors activities, there are areas of accessible woodland, Country Parks and nature reserves.
The park has some of the rarest natural habitats in the Country, if not the World. The park’s iconic landscape of rolling chalk hills covered with grass, scrub, and heather is globally rare. But one of the most stunning and rarest habitats is the parks heathland. Less than 1 per cent of former heathland remains and what’s left is fragmented, reducing the diversity of plants and animals that make heaths both interesting and scientifically important.
One of these areas, close to where I live, is Woolmer Forest. Not really a forest but a ‘wooded heath’ it has been a medieval hunting ground and the site of Iron Age and Roman discoveries of national significance. It is now it’s the only place in the British Isles where you will still find all of 12 our native species of reptile and amphibian.
Some of the more obscure facts include:
- The Bat and Ball pub in Hambledon was the birthplace of cricket. It is here that the third stump was added to the wicket and the width of the bat decreed. Hambledon remained the home of English cricket until power was transferred to the MCC.
- The market town of Midhurst was where John Wyndham based his terrifying novel The Midwitch Cuckoos. This was later made into the film Village of the Damned.
- A streetlamp in the town of Petworth were designed by Sir Charles Barry, who also designed the Houses of Parliament.
- The hymn Morning Has Broken was written in Alfriston.
- The Harrow Inn in the Hampshire village of Steep was the favourite pub of the actor Sir Alec Guinness.
- The East Sussex town of Plumpton is supposed to be the inspiration for Seventies children’s classic Trumpton.
Whilst the South Downs National Park may be the youngest of the national parks and still very much in its infancy, it is already ‘punching well above its weight’. The National Park Authority still have a lot of work ahead of them, but with the team that they have assembled, the next 10 years will be an interesting time.
Ordnance Survey maps Required