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INTRODUCING LANDSCAPES OF FREEDOM!


SOUTH DOWNS NATIONAL PARK BETRAYED BY ITS OWN LEADERSHIP

A comment by Dave Bangs (erstwhile campaigner for National Park designation / co-founder ‘Landscapes of Freedom’ / co-founder ‘Brighton Downs Alliance’) 27th July 2021

Following ‘Landscapes of Freedom’ & ‘Right to Roam’s’ joint success in leading a 300+ strong mass trespass to a game-bird-infested secret & closed-off Downland valley, a spokesperson for the South Downs National Park Authority said the followingi…

“Farmers (are) at the forefront to restore nature (in the National Park). It’s important that people respect farmland, do not allow dogs to disturb livestock and wildlife, and stick to the extensive network of public paths running across the National Park.”

The late Michael Meacher, Environment Minister in the post-1997 Labour Government, must be revolving in his grave! The spokesperson has entirely omitted mentioning our right to roam over ancient Down pasture!!

Meacher drove through BOTH the designation of the South Downs National Park AND the partial right to roam on Down and other open country.

In his speech to Labour Party Conferenceii announcing his plan for two new National Parks and a new right to roam Meacher said (paraphrase) ” because so much of the National Park has been damaged in modern times, the South Downs will be a National Park of a new type…one dedicated to a major project of landscape restoration”.

He then gave full recognition to the public value of ancient nature-rich Down pasture – chalk grassland – by making sure that such of it that survived should be dedicated as statutory access land for our enjoyment in perpetuity.

Now – 21 years after the passing of the Countryside & Rights of Way Act (CROW) and 19 years after the National Park Designation Order – this dream of a restored Down landscape has so withered in the hands of its officials and leaders that a spokesperson omits to mention the crucial open access status which blesses so much of the National Park’s surviving ancient pasturesiii.

Are we not to know that Dencher Bottom Deep Dean, Applesham Long Down, Amberley Coombes, Longfurlong, Fairmile Slope, Chantry Hill, Broadgreen, Cow Wish, and Caburn Bottoms, High Hill, Anchor Bottom, Westmeston Down, and Patcham Court Farm & on & on are open and free to us all to walk with respect and joy and renewal?

Do we all have to trail along the barbed wire corridors of so much of the South Downs Way and our ridgeland footpaths looking at banal modern pastures and the chemically-sprayed deserts of our modern cornlands?

22 miles of the South Downs Way cross the Brighton Downs. Yet the walker will not be rewarded by much of Downland’s renowned beauty at the close scale of the turf around her feet. Out of this 22 mile stretch only one mile (that is 4.4%) passes across flowery biodiverse down pasture which is arguably of reasonable quality.

The South Downs Way and other long footpaths barely touch those areas of scented flowery turf and Gorse which gave the Downs such a strong place identity.

You could walk our Downland footpaths and go home with absolutely no idea of the wonder and beauty of tiny plants and creatures which made our South Downs famous.

Our mass trespass gave over 300 people a chance to see a secret valley which is already in our public ownership, but from which we have been systematically excluded for most of the century since its purchase in 1924.

Will the National Park EVER act on Michael Meacher’s vision?

Set that good man’s shade free of this betrayal of his legacy!

i ‘South Downs National Park responds to Mass Trespass’, Christian Fuller, The Argus, 26th July 2021.

ii ‘A Freedom to Roam Guide to the Brighton Downs’ pages 184-190, by Dave Bangs (2008)

iii Here is a comment by a former Director of the South Downs National Park Authority and redoubtable campaigner for its designation, Phil Belden:

“Sad to see the SDNP, which came into being thanks to huge public campaigning, shunning quality public access. So, it’s ok to walk between barbed wire fences, along linear rights of way, but not to experience the freedom of open access to our downland, for health and well-being. This goes against the ethos of National Parks. The average open access land across our English National Parks is 40%, as high as 60% in the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales, 72% in the Peaks and 85% in Northumberland National Park. The South Downs – less than 5%! It is depressing that the SDNPA fails to recognise this basic human need for contact with nature, the joy of experiencing the open Downs. Shameful too, that the SDNPA should come out against a plea for improving open access in the South Downs, which is restricted to fragmented little pockets across its 3 counties, over its 1600 square kilometres / 600 square miles. The SDNPA should be at the forefront of encouraging more open access, from that derisory 5%”.

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