The 632 square mile South Downs National Park stretches along the southern coast of England from Beachy Head in East Sussex to the edge of Winchester in Hampshire, echoing ancient times and historic places.
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The South Downs is nationally recognised for its natural beauty and the opportunities it offers for recreation, and this is one reason it has been made into a National Park. Designating the area as a national park also helps to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife, and cultural heritage of the area.
Pasture and woodland in east Hampshire, hills in West Sussex, woods, and heathland make up the mix. The chalk hills and downlands were created by constant livestock grazing over thousands of years. The diverse landscape makes it an ideal home for native plants, rare butterflies, grasshoppers, birds, snakes and lizards.
Located in the most densely populated corner of the UK the landscape today includes 85% farmland, green fields, Victorian and Regency coastal towns and picturesque villages. Though well used by man, it still retains the nature of the land.
Covered by water one hundred million years ago, the rolling windswept hills, dry valleys and great chalk cliffs are riddled with the remains of Bronze Age barrows and Iron Age hill-forts. The most spectacular barrows are Devil’s Jumps with their five huge round mounds and ditches dominating the landscape. The large banks and ditches of Cissbury Ring, a hill-fort constructed of chalk, date from 350BC.
Elaborate mosaics of Roman villas tell of life in the past—Fishbourne Roman Villa is the largest Roman domestic building found in Britain. Old houses are faced with flints dug from chalk pits. Small stone-built churches, with Saxon elements still visible, dot the region. Medieval castles play host to visitors. Stately homes speak of past and present wealth and prestige.
Alice Holt Forest, the northerly most tip of the new National Park boundary, is a gateway to the South Downs National Park for the huge populations living in Surrey, Hampshire and Greater London. The forest has more than 290,000 visitors every year and is used by CTC, the national cyclists’ organisation, as a national model of best practice for its Cycling for All programme. The forest also boasts one of the highest treetop Go Ape! courses in the country, a café, education centre, adventure play areas for children of all ages and well-marked trails for cycling, walking, or horse riding.
Rising 534 feet above sea level, with panoramic views across the sea, Beachy Head lies just west of Eastbourne. Strong winds and crashing waves add to the drama of dwellings teetering on the edge of stunning chalk cliffs, losing their battle with the sea at the rate of one metre per year. From dramatic cliffs to rolling hills to man-made structures, the South Downs National Park, with its wide-open views, is a place of startling beauty.
For a map of the boundaries of the South Downs National Park go to
Natural England and scroll down the page.
Cissbury Ring courtesy Trish Steel at Geograph Britain and Ireland
Farm and South Downs way courtesy South of England Image Library