Our rolling downland, with its steep scarps, coombs, deans and lynchets contains two-thirds of Sussex Scheduled Ancient Monuments, traces that signpost the unique qualities of this landscape to us right now. To prevent the erosion of our ancient earthworks by farming, scrub and building development, we advocate an active management of the culture embedded in the land as part of a wider regeneration.
The Chalk Downland which surrounds, and in part forms, Brighton and Hove preserves a rich record of the human past. It is for the most part an archaeological record of surviving artefacts, structures, settlements, field systems and landscape features which have resisted the processes of soil erosion, mechanised ploughing and urban development. It also comprises intangible cultural heritage such as place names as well as aspects of the ecology and landscape character of the South Downs themselves.
The oldest part of this record comes from stone artefacts and preserved mammal bones from the Ice Age origins of this landscape, perhaps extending back as far as 500,000 years ago. Both hilltop plateaus and our deep dry valleys, formed by freeze and thaw, preserve evidence of early humans populations as well as those of the last hunters of the Mesolithic.
Brighton and Hove’s Downland estate also preserves important later prehistoric monuments including the Whitehawk Causewayed enclosure, Hollingbury Hillfort, the Bronze Age settlement of Plumpton Plain, hundreds of miles of field-system banks, deeply buried ‘Beaker’ period landscapes as well as the burial mounds, cremation cemeteries and votive hoards of these people.
This rich prehistoric legacy is matched by evidence for Roman, Medieval and more recent traces of human impact on the landscape, right through to the archaeological record of wartime training grounds and more recent funerary archaeology such as the Chattri monument.
Caring for this record requires understanding known sites in more detail but also being aware of the limits of our knowledge and being prepared to continually add to it. The heritage of Brighton and Hove’s Downland is an internationally important record which underscores the close and complex connection between human activity and ecology. Continued careful management, enhanced public access and the sharing of new discoveries within this landscape are essential if we are to protect it for future generations.