This feature appeared in the ‘Brightonian’ magazine in April 2021.

Over the last 6 months Brighton and Hove City council have been holding a consultation process about the future of the 12, 800 acres of the South Downs owned by the City for the last 100 years. Many individuals and organisations, connected with the Downland Estate including farmers, walkers, The Sussex Wildlife Trust, archaeological societies, the Brighton Downs Alliance and Extinction Rebellion have joined online discussions and made submissions about the future management of the land.

A draft Whole Estate Plan is being produced taking into account the views that have been submitted.  At the same time as this consultation is happening BHCC have produced their Becoming Carbon Neutral by 2030 strategy The ecological /bio-diversity crisis features very little in that strategy.

How the Downland is managed is key to both promoting biodiversity and reducing carbon.  Although much of the species rich chalk grassland has already been lost it is an internationally rare priority habitat, one square metre can support up to 80 species of plants and moss. It must be a priority to conserve those existing areas and to select other areas where there is an opportunity for recovery and to listen to the people that have real expertise in this.

There are lots of competing and important interests in how the Downs are managed – there is some concern that the consultation process – in the difficult context of not being able to hold open public meetings – has not been set in the overall policy priority context of addressing the climate and ecological emergency and is not being run by people who have expertise in the environment and conservation.

In that context the priorities should be to require all farms on the estate to restore ecosystems through regenerative agriculture, low carbon and nature friendly farming, to protect the chalk aquifer and so the city’s water supply, to protect and restore biodiversity and to allow and promote public access. A popular suggestion within this context is to allocate the next suitable farm tenancy for community management leading to local food production, local employment and connecting local people to food growing.

Hanover Action supports the measures that link most closely to addressing our climate and biodiversity emergency. There will be more opportunities to follow and comment on this process. If you are interested go online to City Downland Estate and follow the process as it unfolds.