South Downs National Park in £100m campaign to boost nature amid climate crisis

A major search to find new spaces for nature in the South Downs National Park is underway.

Amid the UN Climate Change Conference – COP26 – the urgent need to save nature has never been clearer.

And now, as part of its 10-year campaign to ReNature the South Downs, the national park authority has launched a call for potential sites for nature.

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The appeal is inviting farmers, land managers, communities and conservation groups across the national park to put forward possible sites where new wildlife habitat could be created.

A water vole in the South Downs National Park. Picture by Dick Hawkes

Andrew Lee, director of countryside policy and management at the national park authority, said: “We have big ambitions. This is about taking places not currently managed for wildlife and specifically managing them for the benefit of nature.

“It’s a first pilot round to see what ideas come forward, and we expect the initiative to adapt and evolve over the next decade, with more appeals for sites likely in the future.”

Proposals of any size or scale will be considered and could include, for example, creating wildflower meadows, new hedgerows, more natural rivers, planting trees, creating heathland or installing dew ponds. Village greens, road verges and allotments may also have potential.

#ReNature is a campaign that aims to raise £100million over the next 10 years to create an extra 13,000 hectares of habitat where plants and animals can thrive.

Mr Lee said: “As world leaders gather to discuss the colossal environmental challenges facing our planet, we’re taking decisive action at a regional scale in the South East of England.

“This appeal is a key element of our #ReNature campaign as we need to identify possible sites where wildlife can flourish once again.”

The National Park Authority is not seeking to acquire land as part of this process. Instead, the authority will work with landowners and communities, offering its specialist guidance to develop projects and connect with available funding opportunities.

One possible mechanism, could be carbon offsetting, where a landowner ‘renatures’ a parcel of land to help capture carbon.

The natural environment can play a vital role in tackling the climate crisis, since healthy ecosystems store a significant amount of carbon in soils, sediments, vegetation and trees.

Speaking on Thursday, Mr Lee said: “It’s exciting to launch this appeal today and I hope it will be the first big step towards nature recovery across the national park and beyond. We’re testing the water to see how many renature sites might be out there.

“We’re not asking anyone to make any formal commitments at this stage, just trying to identify potential projects at varying scales, ranging from well-developed projects which need extra support, through to expressions of interest to explore further.”

The South Downs National Park currently has 25 per cent of the land managed for nature, such as nature reserves, woods, heaths, ponds and flower-rich road verges.

The additional 13,000 hectares would bring this to 33 per cent of land managed for nature – going beyond current UN-backed conservation targets of ‘30 per cent by 2030’ (30 for 30).

Landowners and land managers can find out more about the Call for Nature Sites and download a form to make an expression of interest by visiting www.southdowns.gov.uk/CallForNatureSites

The deadline for expressions of interest is 17 January, 2022.