3 ISSUES FOR JUST £3 Subscribe to Hampshire Life today click here

Keeping the South Downs landscape at its best

PUBLISHED: 14:54 05 February 2016 | UPDATED: 14:54 05 February 2016

People out enjoying the views on Old Winchester Hill (Photo by Anne Purkiss)

People out enjoying the views on Old Winchester Hill (Photo by Anne Purkiss)

Anne Katrin Purkiss

The western end of the South Downs is a special place for many people. Five years on since the youngest National Park in England was created, Viv Micklefield finds out what’s being done here in Hampshire to keep this unique landscape at its best

Between its gateway at Winchester City Mill and the far fringes of the western Weald, the Hampshire stretch of the 1600 square kilometre South Downs National Park, has some of the most stunning scenery found anywhere in the country. Add to this its rare wildlife and habitats, the ancient farmland yielding exquisite produce, a rich cultural heritage, and towns and villages where communities take a real pride in their local area and it’s small wonder that so many of us flock to enjoy what’s on offer.

“This landscape is a real mosaic because it has so many elements within it,” says Nick Heasman the western downs area manager for the National Park Authority, which in April 2011 became responsible for promoting its purposes and the interests of those who live and work within it. He goes on: “Whereas some of the National Parks might be seen as a wilderness, here, it’s as much about the people as it is about the place.

“You can see this particularly in the market towns where, for instance, there will be local watercress and trout on sale. It’s really nice to see that connection with the landscape - that real Hampshire vibe which is a wonderful backdrop to people’s lives.”

As Nick points out: “With the urban coastal developments of Southampton and Portsmouth, the need to have this green space in-between them and London is probably considered to be even more important today than it was in the 1930s when the Park was first conceived.

“We’ve got demands on the landscape, whether it’s for recreation, water or food… also affordable housing is a major issue with a growing population. As a Parks Authority, we’re keen to see this achieved through sustainable development but also, wherever that development takes place, to ensure there’s a benefit applied directly to that local population - that’s really important.”

So, recently completed is a new cycle route that links Petersfield with Queen Elizabeth Park, and enables the growing neighbourhoods south of Butser Hill to have safer access to the local town.

But creating a more sustainable future involves many organisations. Parish councils, wildlife trusts, Natural England, the National Trust, the Environment Agency and water companies, as well as Hampshire’s rural estates, are all creating a legacy of land management. And they are not the only ones.

Nevill Brooke, who lives in Petersfield, is one of 80 volunteer rangers supporting the western downs’ habitat teams. From coppicing hazel to building nesting boxes for barn owls and river monitoring, he’s swapped sitting behind a computer for working in the fresh air.

“I’d highly recommend volunteering,” he says. “I’ve been involved in the water vole release project on the River Meon for the past five years.

St Catherines Hill in Winchester (Photo by Adrian Pink)St Catherines Hill in Winchester (Photo by Adrian Pink)

“Having set traps to catch the American mink that had wiped-out the water vole, we’ve surveyed the river and have identified, with the landowners, suitable areas for their reintroduction. So far, we’ve released over 1600.”

Elsewhere, bus users in Martyr Worthy, Couch Green and Itchen Abbas are now protected from the elements, after funding to support local sustainable transport saw three new shelters built from wood grown and crafted within the Park itself. Patrick Appleby, chair of Itchen Valley Parish Council is delighted, he says: “The team effort between ourselves, the architects, the South Downs National Park and Artizans of Wood (the makers), has provided us with some unique new bus shelters that will serve the Parish for many years to come.”

However, despite over 160 different community projects being supported during the past five years, as Margaret Paren, chair of the Park Authority admits: “There’s no easy way to prioritise these across such a big area”. As a consequence, the western downs (which make up 34 per cent of the Park) compete annually for around £10million of funding from the Department of Farming and Rural Affairs, as well as grants secured elsewhere.

So for a National Park with a resolutely 21st century focus, how does it find a way for its residents to live in harmony with nature?

As head of the country’s eighth largest planning authority which, actually, owns none of the land within its boundary, Margaret says: “Since the National Park was set-up it’s been about working in partnership, this means bringing the landowners, the farmers and the conservation groups together.

“These are very historic communities, with some people having lived here for generations - whilst others, like me, have moved here because it is so beautiful. The Local Plan for the South Downs National Park has been to consultation and we shall be putting out an updated version this coming autumn.”

Taking a keen interest in what’s proposed is the South Downs Society. It currently has almost 2000 members and policy officer Steve Ankers believes the Plan’s constraints on townscape development and support for the use of local building materials alongside good design, gives grounds for optimism.

“Until now the Park Authority has been making development control decisions on the basis of a dozen different county and district plans, which, with the best will in the world, are not entirely consistent. Having an overarching plan that operates within national planning law but also puts conservation as a priority, we may well get some different decisions being made.

“As a Society I think we’re listened to and can often point to decisions that we feel, we may have influenced.”

Reintroducing water voles to the South Downs National Park (Photo by Kimi Stewart)Reintroducing water voles to the South Downs National Park (Photo by Kimi Stewart)

One instance of this, he says, was near Oakhanger. “The Society campaigned on behalf of residents against the expansion of a sand quarry because it’s in the National Park. That’s a good example of pressure by local people, the Society’s knowledge of mineral extraction and the support of the South Downs National Park Authority, all coming together.”

And that’s surely the secret of the Park’s enduring success - a shared respect and passion for the landscape. Speak to Margaret, and Old Winchester Hill with its grassland nature reserve is one of her special places, for Nick the great heathland of Woolmer Forest sets his pulse racing, whilst Nevill enjoys nothing more 
than wading along the chalk streams of the Meon Valley.

Play your part

• Get active: become a member of the part-time South Downs Volunteer Ranger Service or join a local conservation group; www.southdowns.gov.uk has links.

• Have a voice: join the South Downs Society at www.southdownssociety.org.uk
• Shop local: find the best places to buy, eat and drink, and explore the local fare by visiting www.southdownsfood.org

• Ditch the car: access the Park and the South Downs Way using public transport.

• Conserve water: simply turn off the tap!

• Take the lead: keep family dogs under control around livestock and wildlife. 


Best things about living on Hayling Island - Looking for a quieter, gentler pace of life? What about Hayling Island? Emma Caulton visits

More from Out & About


10 of best photos of Hampshire shared on Instagram over the past week...

Read more
Tue, 09:55

This year Winchester’s Theatre Royal celebrates the 40th anniversary of its re-opening as a performance theatre

Read more
Mon, 15:30

Avon Valley, Beer and Cake is the ABC of why Ringwood, a busy market town on the western edge of the New Forest, makes a quirkily clever choice for a break away

Read more
Monday, September 10, 2018

Lego enthusiast Duncan Titmarsh has built his business brick by brick; from tinkering in his garden shed to internationally acclaimed sculptures

Read more
Monday, September 10, 2018

New Forest ponies are an iconic sight, yet modern-day pressures pose a constant threat to the traditional landscape. Viv Micklefield heads to Lyndhurst to take stock of what happens inside England’s oldest forest court

Read more
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

From Austen’s treasures to castles built by Henry VIII, Heritage Open Days (6-9 and 13-16 September 2018) allow you to step behind the doors of some of the county’s most iconic but hidden premises.

Read more
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

With the New Forest, South Downs and a picturesque coastline, Hampshire is an amazing place for a walk. We round up a few of our favourites

Read more
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

We round up some of the best events and things to do across Hampshire this month

Read more
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

If there’s one thing we love to do here at Hampshire Life, it’s to celebrate local produce! So here are a selection of some of the best farm shops across the county where you’ll find just that

Read more
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

With a vibrant local community, this is a shining example of a true Hampshire village

Read more
Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Coeliac disease affects 1 in 100 people, and many more are seeing the health benefits after waving goodbye to gluten. Here are just a few of the county’s cafes, pubs and producers who are embracing the gluten free way

Read more
Monday, August 20, 2018

Looking for some peace and tranquility this summer? Lose yourself in one of these wonderful gardens

Read more
Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The castles and forts around the county make for a fascinating ghost hunt by night, and a fun family trip by day

Read more
Tuesday, August 14, 2018

When Southsea’s South Parade Pier closed in 2012, derelict and a shadow of its former glory days, who’d have thought that six years on it would be Pier of the Year

Read more
A+ South & South West

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Latest Competitions & Offers

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search