Nearby, freely explorable, nature-rich landscapes are recognised by Natural England as essential to human wellbeing. Linear footpaths and bridleways just aren't good enough for appreciating wild nature and the Downs. Huge swathes of our Downland Estate are without open public access, though they were largely brought into public ownership to safeguard that freedom.
With Statutory Open Access across the Estate supported by sustainable transport and initiatives to create off-road walking and cycling routes from the city, our downland could become a huge, open, safe, recreational resource, a true breathing space on our doorstep.
Connection to the City
Car use is a major source of carbon emissions for the city. Increasing safe off-road routes to the downlands from the city will reduce the need to drive out to the countryside in order to walk or cycle.
Access to downland from the communities that border it is often limited, illogical, roundabout or simply non-existent. We need to support projects rooted in these communities to improve the access to and quality of their surrounding natural environments.
For walkers of the Downs a century and more ago the distinction between linear rights of way and land with a freedom to wander was blurred or non-existent. Children could explore freely on these bare and inter-visible hills, deans and combes. Since folk could walk all over the Downs without let or hindrance it was not that important to know where public paths were, except if speedy journeys were required.
Nowadays we mostly don't walk the Downs to go to market or walk to work. We go there to be with nature, or for exercise, or to have fun with our friends. Yet nowadays the chances for us to wander in freedom are severely curtailed. Furthermore, the quality of such experiences is greatly reduced by the separation of linear rights of way from the parcels of surviving ancient flowery chalk grassland. The chalk grassland survives on the steep unploughable slopes, and the rights of way march along the ridge tops.
Even these ridge top paths have lost the fragrant flowery mantle that made our steps across its springy turf a delight. Arable fields, banal 'improved' pastures and wire fences line our paths - not Wild Strawberries, nodding Cowslips, or coconut scented yellow Gorse.
Restoring our right to roam - in its strong statutory form - on our Downs is a major part of our joint tasks of restoring nature and restoring our connection with nature, for we cannot defend and cherish what we cannot visit and enjoy.
Statutory Open Access
In Scotland, Scandinavia and in much of Europe people have a right of access to ALL countryside - with the obvious exemptions of growing crops, quarries, and gardens and yards, and walkers must always stay a certain distance from private dwellings. Statutory access land 'right to roam' land gives the public:
This right of access represents a constraint against future attempts by councils to sell our Downland, and an additional important protection for the permanence of the land as a public resource, free to all. Statutory access land does not constrain the council or its tenants' ability to manage the land with livestock. They can set aside up to 15 ha (37.5 acres) of land for lambing for 6 weeks, and can exclude in-use stock holding pens from public access.
You can find out more about the rules around Right to Roam on the Government’s website:
Balancing access with protection
While increased use during lockdown has opened more people’s eyes to nature, the volume of human visitors can stress natural habitats. Chalk grassland can cope with footfall, yet trampling the bluebells in Stanmer Park can be damaging. The more people are educated, have access, connect with a place and feel a sense of ownership, the better they will protect the environment. Increasing explorable land will take the strain off popular areas.
“Take the lead” South Downs National Park Authority’s advice to dog walkers.
“Love it and look after it” Sussex Wildlife Trusts advice on visiting nature reserves.
Existing access provision on the Estate
The Missing Links project aims to develop safe and sustainable transport ‘missing links’ along roads in the South downs National Parks.
"Winning the right to roam
In the year 2000, following a long-running campaign led by the Ramblers, walkers won a ‘right to roam’ over wild, open countryside in England and Wales. The new legal right to walk over mountains, moorland, heath, downland and common land, without having to stay on paths, was set out in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. Winning this right remains one of the most significant milestones in Ramblers’ history.”
"Campaign to save our footpaths
Our paths are one of our most precious assets, hidden in plain sight, and often taken for granted, they allow everyone to enjoy the countryside, both on our doorstep and across Britain’s iconic landscapes. With the help of thousands of volunteers we searched all of England and Wales and found over 49,000 miles of paths which could be lost forever. Time is running out, with only five years left to collect the evidence needed to build and submit applications to restore the most important paths for future generations."
Slowways: creating a network of walking routes that connect all of Great Britain’s towns and cities.
Guardian article on Slowways:
“While there are thousands of miles of paths linking places across the country, there isn’t a comprehensive network designed to help people walk off-road between all towns and cities. That’s what the Slow Ways project aims to do. The brainchild of geographer and explorer Dan Raven-Ellison, and supported by Ordnance Survey, the idea is to get people walking between locations they might otherwise drive or take public transport to – via existing off-road paths and bridleways – and to promote slower types of travel.
“Historically, footpaths were created for walking to work, visiting relatives or trading, but many routes have been forgotten. We want to reimagine them for use today,” Raven-Ellison said. “People walk for fun, of course, but we’re also interested in the idea of functional walks – walking to visit people often takes less time than you’d think.”
Accessing the Brighton Downs by Bus
I, IΑ Mile Oak, Cockroost Hil, Cockroost Bottom, Mount Zion, New Barn Farm, Path up to Fulking Hill or Devil’s Dyke Farm. Get off at Chrisdory Road and turn right for a short walk under the bypass tunnel towards the farm.
17 Paythorne Farm Horsham bus. Holmbush Farm stop at Woodmancote . Walk down Clappers Lane and then the paths either to Fulking or Edburton and along the road at the bottom to Paythorne Farm. About ¾ hour walk to get there. Or walk down from Perching Hill on South Downs Way.
27 Waterhall , Varncombe Hill, Pangdean Bottom. Get off at Glen Rise Westdean, walk to Millcroft and turn left then left again to cross Mill Rd and go under the by pass to Waterhall. About 15 mins walk.
5, 5A, 5B towards Patcham Tegdown Hill , Stanmer Park, Heathy Brow and Ewe Bottom, Deep Bottom, Chattri. Also High Park Farm, Stanmer Park, Piddingworth Plantation,Big Bottom and Plumpton Hill. Vale Ave Patcham, path South of Recreation ground then bridge over bypass cross Braypool Lane and onto Tegdown hill. Or get to bridge by turning left along path at end of Mackie Ave.
23,25, 50U,28,29 . Waterpit Hill, Balmer Down, Balmer Huff, Buckland Hole, Moustone, Broad Shackles, Plumpton Plane, Ashcombe Bottom, Blackcap. Under tunnel to Sussex University, turn right, cross road to Mill Street, left up Ridge Lane right hand path ( about a mile) Left hand path goes to St Mary’s Farm and Ditchling Beacon.
46 ( Ditchling Rd), 26 (Cuckmere Way) 50 ( Burstead Close) Hollingbury Hill, Wild Park,
28, Housedean Farm, Balmer Down, Ashcombe Bottom
28, 84 Falmer Court Farm, Bevendean Downs, Loose Bottom.
49 Bevendean: Nature Reserve, livery stables.
48 Bevendean: Hogtrough Bottom, Falmer Hill
21,21A Swanborough Drive Race Hill, Sheepcote Valley, East Brighton Golf Course, Red Hill.
2 from stop at Downs Hotel cross road and walk down Old Parish Lane past the school. Ovingdean Downs Wick Bottom, Mount Pleasant , Ovingdean Grange Farm.
27,27C Saltdean Vale New Barn Farm, Pickers Hill Farm.
2 Downs Hotel walk left up the hill, cross little car park above Bexhill Rd to path.
21,21A,22,22A, 52 Langley Crescent cross grass to path. Balsdean Valley, Bullock Hill, Castle Hill, New Market Hill, Loose Bottom.