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Eastbourne ends downland sell-off!

The Society has campaigned alongside local residents and other environmental groups against Eastbourne Borough Council’s plans to sell off the bulk of its landholding in the national park. While the planning powers of the National Park Authority would have remained in place, and rights of way would have been protected, there is no substitute for benign ownership if landscape, wildlife, recreation and cultural heritage are to be conserved and enhanced, so there is much to celebrate in the recent decision of the Borough Council to stop the sale. The Society has continually offered to collaborate with the council and others to realise the potential of the landholding and looks forward to engaging in that process.

The South Downs Network of environmental groups active across the national park — of which the Society is an active member and secretariat — has also offered its expertise. Below is the text of the Network’s letter to Eastbourne:

 

14th March 2017

Councillor Tutt       Leader, Eastbourne Borough Council

Dear Councillor Tutt

Following our letter to you (30th January 2017) this is a positive follow-up to thank you for the bold decision you have taken to stop the sale of the Eastbourne downland estate farms. Our network of 40 organisations with environmental interests in the South Downs National Park is relieved that you have come to this conclusion, influenced by the overwhelming feelings of your Eastbourne residents in the recent poll.

We understand the financial difficulties and pressure to deliver public services that you are under, and recognise that this has no easy solutions. However, we strongly believed that selling the downland asset was not the right answer. Now you have stopped the sales you will be looking forward to how best to manage the downland estate and we re-emphasise the offer we made in our previous letter: “we will be more than happy to work with you, in partnership, to maximise the benefits from public land ownership”.

A strong partnership with the South Downs National Park Authority, Water Company, key organisations and local interests can be galvanised here. The estate is an invaluable public asset for the people of Eastbourne, for the local area and visitors from further afield. Your tenant farmers are making a valuable contribution. Their sensitive land management in food-growing helps deliver clean drinking water, wildlife and natural capital, along with its value for cultural heritage, public access, recreation and tourism and increasing the sustainability of the local economy in the face of climate change. With ownership and management in your control, as the publicly-accountable local authority for Eastbourne, much can be achieved.

The range of ecosystem services that the Eastbourne downland generates offers great opportunity, particularly if the UK’s post-Brexit farming policy results in more financial support for the maintenance of such services. Furthermore, your Downland Management Plan provides a useful base to affirm a renewed vision to develop a more comprehensive action plan for the Downs in harmony with local people while also recognising the national significance of this iconic landscape.

Yours sincerely

Dr Tony Whitbread, Chairman, South Downs Network

Cc Mr R Cottrill, Chief Executive, Eastbourne Borough Council

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Please Don’t Sell the Eastbourne Downs

As part of the Society’s continuing campaign alongside local residents and other environmental organisations to keep the downs in benign ownership, we have — as a member of the South Downs Network of around 40 organisations — again written to the leader of Eastbourne Borough Council urging the authority to call a halt to its plans to sell four farms in a key part of the national park behind Beachy Head. The Society, from January 2017, acts as secretary to the Network.

 

Dear Councillor Tutt                                                                                            30 January 2017

Leader, Eastbourne Borough Council

PLEASE DON’T SELL THE EASTBOURNE DOWNS

We, the South Downs Network of organisations with an environmental interest in the national park, urge you to stop the proposed sale of the four farms, comprising three-quarters of the Eastbourne downland estate.

This land is an invaluable public asset for the people of Eastbourne, for the local area and visitors from further afield. It has great value for its rich natural capital, its biodiversity and cultural heritage, to public amenity and the town’s drinking water supply. It is vital that ownership and management rest with the Borough Council, as the democratic, publicly-accountable local authority for Eastbourne, to continue its great work in conserving and enhancing the land and complying with the words and spirit of the 1926 Eastbourne Corporation Act.

Under your careful ownership there is a synergy of the tenant farmers’ sheep grazing; people wandering from “honeypot” sites to the more tranquil downland and chalk grassland restoration enabled by “joining up” different compartments. This synergy would fail if the estate was broken up. We hear assurances that you have given about the land being in the National Park, rights of way being protected and covenants on the land. However, from practical experience across the South Downs this will not safeguard the Eastbourne Downs. No guarantees can be given that current, relatively benign farming practices will continue. Recent examples show how insecure these apparent protections are. Twyford Down in Hampshire was a legally protected Site of Special Scientific Interest and Scheduled Ancient Monument– destroyed. Covenants on Brighton Marina to prevent building higher than the cliffs – tested and torn up in the Court of Appeal. St Mary’s Farm, sold by Brighton Council and subsequently to an investment bank, which, to gain a good return on its investment, rented it to an intensive arable farmer who ploughed up the grassland and to a commercial shoot that bulldozed out copse-centres for game rearing.

We strongly recommend that the Council re-thinks its policy, looks more closely at the range of ecosystem services that the Eastbourne Downland generates and sets out a renewed vision for its Downs in harmony with its people. This should respect the fact that the land is held in trust by the Council on behalf of the people of Eastbourne.

If you take this approach we will be more than happy to work with you, in partnership, to maximise the benefits from public land ownership; you can be assured that this would be a most popular move, applauded by the people of Eastbourne.

I am copying this letter to Caroline Ansell MP, to Councillor Gill Mattock and to selected media.

 

Dr Tony Whitbread

Chair, South Downs Network

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90 years of conservation – The South Downs Society celebrates the past, present and future

On Wednesday evening 20th November President of the South Downs Society, Baroness Whitaker, hosted a reception at the House of Lords celebrating the 90th anniversary of the founding of the South Downs Society.

The Lord Speaker, Baroness d’Souza, spoke about the importance of the role of civic society in protecting the countryside and welcomed some 80 guests, most of whom were members of the Society.  In addition to celebrating the 90 years since the Society was formed, Baroness Whitaker and Society Trustees, Rob Jackson and Robert Cheesman outlined exciting plans to attract more families to join the Society.  In 2014 a series of family-friendly events and walks will be introduced to the programme of activities along with a package of member benefits designed to appeal to families.

Below are a few pictures taken at the event: