Saving historic sites from sea between Birling Gap and Seven Sisters

Only the foundations remain of the Crowlink Coastguard Cottages
Only the foundations remain of the Crowlink Coastguard Cottages

A bronze age village, burial mounds and a World War II RAF base are just some of the fascinating archaeological sites which are on the brink of being lost forever to coastal erosion between Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters.

But an exciting project to study and excavate these sites is underway and the National Trust is appealing for your help to record them for future generations.

National Trust regional archaeologist for West Sussex and the South Downs Tom Dommett.

National Trust regional archaeologist for West Sussex and the South Downs Tom Dommett.

People are being asked to volunteer their time to help archaeologists with the project and a public meeting will be held at the Birling Gap Visitor Centre on Tuesday November 25 at 7pm for you to find out more.

The National Trust’s regional archaeologist for West Sussex and the South Downs, Tom Dommett said: “It’s a great opportunity to get experience with archaeological practice and a great way to enjoy that bit of the landscape which is just breath taking.

“And you will be able to meet new people as well. There’s nothing like the friendships that you make in the trench.”

Amongst the fascinating sites which will soon be lost to the sea are a Neolithic hill top enclosure dating back to 6000BC to 2000BC at Bell Tout.

This surrounds a Bronze Age village where an excavation is planned to take place in summer 2016.

The sea has already started to erode part of this site.

The hill hop enclosure remains an archaeological mystery. Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman and even Medieval dates have been suggested for various parts of the site.

Further down the coast at Baily’s Hill are Bronze Age barrows, an ancient burial site, about 4,500 years old. It is perched just 20m away from the cliff top edge.

Inside Tom Dommett is expecting to find beads made of jet, burial urns, pottery, tools for the afterlife and of course human remains. This will be excavated in summer 2015.

Another area of interest for the team is the Crowlink Coastguard Cottages which date back to the early 19th century. The structure is just 15 metres away from the cliff edge.

Today only the foundations remain.

The Crowlink Coastguard Station was established in the early 19th century and guarded Crowlink Gap, the only point along the Seven Sisters with access to a beach and a favourite spot for smugglers.

And over at Gayles Farm near Friston Forest is a World War II RAF base, RAF Friston, which held a squadron of Spitfires and more than 1,000 personnel at one stage.

Also at this site are possible Iron Age and Roman field systems, as well as settlements.

This site is a little safer than its neighbours with a couple of hundred metres between it and the destructive power of the English Channel.

Tom said: “With more extreme weather it seems likely that something 100 metres away will be gone in 200 years or less.

“I am very excited about the project. It’s an amazing opportunity and quite a rare opportunity to look at a diverse range of archaeological sites within the landscape.

“It’s something we are looking to do thanks to the Neptune Funding the National Trust has provided, in some cases in nationally significant sites and there is the potential to find anything.

“I’m really drawn to Bell Tout because it is such an archaeological mystery.”

The National Trust will be working in partnership with Eastbourne Museum where they hope to hold an exhibition about their findings. There will also be an exhibition at Birling Gap Visitor Centre.

Voluntary work could also include organising guided walks, archaeology and leading events.

If anyone is interested email or call 01323 to find out more about the volunteer evening on November 25.