Precious Lewes landscape gets makeover to restore rare chalk grassland


An historic Lewes site is having scrub removed as part of a project to restore chalk grassland and increase biodiversity across the South Downs.

Chalk grassland is one of the richest habitats in Western Europe but is now rare in the UK. It is being restored across the downs as part of the Government-funded project South Downs Way Ahead Nature Improvement Area.

Scrub and overgrowth is being cleared from marginal areas around Landport Bottom, the site of the Battle of Lewes in 1264.

Lewes District Council is leading the Landport clearance, working with the South Downs National Park Authority, the South Downs Volunteer Ranger Service and Brighton Conservation Volunteers, to remove a large copse of encroaching ash saplings, bramble and blackthorn scrub and a few mature ash and hawthorn trees.

Fencing is being re-aligned to extend grazing into the area, which should help see the return of chalk grassland flowers such as the betony, and kidney vetch.

These flowers provide nectar for insects such as the small blue butterfly, which in turn provide food for birds such as skylarks.

Breaking up the margins encourages a greater diversity of plants and creates woodland glades which are good for reptiles such as adders and common lizards.

Ash timber will be made into charcoal in the summer, to demonstrate how local woodlands can be managed sustainably and generate useful resources.

The project has also helped Plumpton College buy a flock of Southdown sheep to graze Landport Bottom and elsewhere. Southdowns are a local breed, first bred at Glynde in the 1790s.

Guided walks, workshops and events will be held at Landport Bottom to help residents understand the importance and value of chalk grassland within the landscape, and how it is being managed and restored.

This will culminate in 2014 with a festival commemorating 750 years since the Battle of Lewes. This will also celebrate how the chalk downland landscape today provides more than just a pretty backdrop for the town, including contributing to the local economy, recreation, water supply and biodiversity of the area.

Elsewhere, the Brighton and Hove and Lewes Downs Biosphere Partnership is spreading its message far and wide . It has launched a Biosphere Bus inconjunction with its newest partner, the Brighton and Hove Bus Company, with the slogan “Back Our Biosphere Bid”.