Special qualities in the South Downs

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10 reasons why the South Downs is a special place...

From panoramic views to its wildlife and wonderful walking, the South Downs National Park's special qualities include:

  • Diverse inspirational landscapes – these vary from the wooded and heathland ridges on the greens and in the Western Weald to wide open downland on the chalk that spans the length of the national park, both intersected by river valleys.
  • Breathtaking views – there are stunning, panoramic views to the sea and across the Weald as you travel the hundred mile length of the South Downs Way from Winchester to Eastbourne, culminating in the impressive chalk cliffs at Seven Sisters.
  • A rich variety of wildlife and habitats – sheepgrazed downland is the iconic habitat of the chalk landscape. Here you can find rare plants such as the round-headed rampion, the burnt orchid and early spider orchid and butterflies including the Adonis blue and chalkhill blue.
  • Rare and internationally important species – the greensand of the Western Weald contains important lowland heathland habitats including the internationally designated Woolmer Forest, the only site in the British Isles where all our native reptile and amphibian species are found.
  • Tranquil and unspoilt spaces – in some areas the landscape seems to possess a timeless quality, largely lacking intrusive development and retaining areas of dark night skies. This is a place where people seek to escape from the hustle and bustle in this busy part of England, to relax, unwind and re-charge their batteries.
  • An environment shaped by centuries of farming – the rural economy has strongly influenced the landscape and over 80 per cent of the South Downs is farmed. Past agricultural practices have produced some nationally valuable habitats including chalk downland and lowland heath, with traditional breeds specific to the area such as Southdown and Hampshire Down sheep significant in the past and still bred today.
  • Embracing new enterprise – Some farmers are diversifying their businesses, for example by providing tourist accommodation and meeting the growing market for locally produced food and drink. There are many popular tourist attractions and well-loved local pubs which give character to our towns and villages.
  • Great opportunities for recreational activities and learning experiences – with 3,200 kilometres (2,000 miles) of public rights of way and the entire South Downs Way National Trail within the national park there is exceptional scope for walking, cycling and horse riding. Museums, churches, historic houses, outdoor education centres and wildlife reserves are places that provide both enjoyment and learning.
  • Well-conserved historical features and a rich cultural heritage –Bronze Age barrows, Iron Age hill forts, Saxon and Norman churches, dew ponds, historic houses and landmarks of the two World Wars help to give the national park strong links to its past human settlement.
  • Distinctive towns and villages, and communities with real pride in their area the South Downs is unique in having the largest market towns of any UK National Park - Lewes, Petersfield and Midhurst. The character and appearance of these and many other settlements throughout the national park derives in large part from the distinctive local building materials. Many of these settlements contain strong and vibrant communities with much invested in the future of where they live, and a sense of identity with their local area, its culture and history.

Keeping it special - the role of the Authority