National Park’s nature initiative reaches big milestone

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An ambitious goal to “renature” a huge swathe of land to help fight biodiversity loss is almost halfway to reaching its target.

Exactly three years ago the South Downs National Park set a goal of transforming 13,000 hectares – or over 20,000 football pitches – into habitat for wildlife by 2030.

A total of 6,082 hectares – an area bigger than Worthing or Portsmouth – has now been created or improved to help nature thrive. The work has included planting almost 50,000 trees, adding over 100 hectares of wildflowers, planting hedges, restoring ponds, and improving rare habitats such as chalk grassland and lowland heath.

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Some of the land, including on farms and large estates in the National Park, has also been formally secured for nature through planning agreements for biodiversity net gain.

Hare in wildflowers in the South Downs National ParkHare in wildflowers in the South Downs National Park
Hare in wildflowers in the South Downs National Park

The National Park is working on more than 350 different projects with its partners around nature recovery, including new wildflower meadows, hedgerows, wetlands, heathlands, woodlands and chalk grasslands.

The success story comes as the National Park launches its annual ReNature Festival, giving people the chance to learn about wildlife on their doorstep and how we can all help it.

A range of fun activities and guided walks and talks will take place across Sussex and Hampshire between 20 July and 28 July. The week will culminate in a free family-friendly celebration at One Garden Brighton on 27 July.

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The theme of this year’s festival will be the four “b’s” – bees, butterflies, birds and bats – which are all iconic species in the South Downs and tell us how nature is doing in the South Downs. People will be able to learn about why bees have five eyes, why chalk grassland is known as “Europe’s rainforest in miniature”, which birds are most endangered in the South Downs and how bats can eat up to 3,000 midges per night.

Brimstone Butterfly in the South DownsBrimstone Butterfly in the South Downs
Brimstone Butterfly in the South Downs

Applications for ReNature Grants also open this month, where community groups, charities, schools, businesses and parish councils can apply for funding to give nature a helping hand.

Tim Slaney, Chief Executive (Interim) of the National Park, said: “It’s wonderful to be reaching the halfway point in this initiative and absolutely none of it would have been possible without the support of local communities, landowners, farmers, businesses, and volunteers.

“With almost 1,500 native species of plants and animals in the UK now threatened with extinction, nature needs us now more than ever. We want nature to thrive everywhere for everyone, not only for biodiversity bouncing back but also people’s health and wellbeing. National Parks can and should be the nation’s nature recovery hubs and we’ve proved that we can do it and do it well.

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“We’re excited about what we can achieve for the rest of this decade and we’re looking forward to looking in more detail at the ecological impact of the work we’ve been doing, including increasing our monitoring.

Tim Slaney, South Downs National Park AuthorityTim Slaney, South Downs National Park Authority
Tim Slaney, South Downs National Park Authority

“Ultimately, we want nature everywhere for everyone and our ReNature Festival offers a wonderful opportunity for people to connect with the wildlife all around us.”

To download the full programme for the ReNature Festival visit A free online pack is also available, crammed with fun nature-based activities and information for the whole family to enjoy.

The festival includes a competition for people to win a family ticket to Marwell Wildlife. All people need to do is post an image of them doing their bit for nature – whether it be some wildflowers in the garden, creating a “bee hotel”, spotting wildlife, or climate action such as going car-free or saving water. Share the image on Instagram, X or Facebook with the hashtag #ReNature2024.

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Anyone visiting the National Park’s visitor centres in Midhurst or at Seven Sisters Country Park will also be able to pick up a “Pledge and Plant” postcard that is crammed with wildflower seeds.

To apply for a ReNature grant, visit

To donate to the campaign visit the South Downs National Park Trust.

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