The ancient art of making charcoal to be explained in Lewes

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A free demonstration of the art of making charcoal will be given in Lewes tomorrow (Saturday).

Kew Gardens at Wakehurst Place has teamed up with Lewes District Council’s countryside rangers to run the event, using timber cleared from an historic local site.

Over the past year, staff and volunteers at the council have cleared scrub and some ash trees from the margins of Landport Bottom, the site of the Battle of Lewes in 1264.

This work is funded through the South Downs Way Ahead Nature Improvement Area project, which aims to restore large areas of chalk grassland across the South Downs. Timber from the coppiced ash trees was saved and allowed to season so it can be turned into charcoal to demonstrate a positive use of the timber which would otherwise be a waste product.

The public is invited to view the kiln being lit at Landport Bottom, and meet the staff carrying out this work. The kiln will burn for couple of days, before the charcoal will be ready and then distributed to local community groups and charities. Meet at 9.45am at the main entrance to Landport Bottom, off the Old Racecourse road (A275).

This is the start of a series of public events and activities at Landport Bottom over the coming year, which will culminate in a large family festival in May 2014, celebrating the cultural, historic and ecological value of Landport Bottom and the surrounding chalk downland, coinciding with the 750th anniversary of the Battle of Lewes.

District councillor Tony Nicholson, lead member for health and environment, said: “What an original way to introduce a year of events leading next year to the commemoration of the Battle of Lewes. Charcoal making has modern resonance with the recycling policies of the council. Congratulations to all involved not only for caring for the land but for reviving an old skill.”

Town councillor Susan Murray, chair of the Landport Bottom Management Committee, said: “I am delighted that members of the public will have the chance to see that there is potential economic as well as environmental benefit to be gained from managing Landport Bottom as a restored chalk grassland. Turning cut ash into charcoal for local use is eco-friendly too, reducing the amount of barbecue charcoal that needs to be transported large distances to meet our summer cooking needs.”