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.
- Archaeology is a finite resource and once destroyed can never be replaced. The open downs, woods and ploughed fields contain a mixture of known, sometimes visible sites, and others yet to be undetected. These sites include, settlements, earthworks, field systems, burials mounds, etc. Archaeology can also include standing buildings, with Stanmer House, the donkey well, the Stanmer Barn and dovecote being local examples.
- A few are protected by scheduling, but most are not. Scheduling may provide certain types of legal protection to sites but even ploughing (often very destructive) can still be legally undertaken in some situations, resulting in a gradual destruction of archaeological remains. Thus whilst Scheduling prevents changes in land-use of, or ground disturbance to, a site (by archaeologists amongst others if scheduled monument consent has not been obtained), it does not prevent the continuing ploughing of fields which were ploughed at the time of scheduling. It does make it illegal for metal detecting to take place on such sites without written permission from the Secretary for State.
- Earthworks and mounds are often visible, but settlements are usually below the turf or plough soil. A blank area on the map does not mean there is no archaeology. Ploughing is the biggest destroyer of archaeological remains in the UK. Tree roots can severely damage sites; Chanctonbury Ring had two Romano-British temples that were badly affected by tree roots.
- There are thousands of sites dating from the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) down to even WW1, WW2 and Cold War features (Pill boxes etc). You cannot protect or save every site, but where this is impossible they should be accurately recorded for posterity and to investigate the wider panoramic landscape. Really ancient sites dating back to the Palaeolithic period (pre-ice age) are potentially threatened by weathering (Black rock Raised Beach).
- Most of our cultural heritage is not protected (ie not ‘scheduled’) so is very vulnerable. Fortunately, we have a much higher awareness now of the potential threats involved and there are detailed maps of archaeologically sensitive areas plotting the known extent of hillforts, tumuli, field systems etc. In the past we have lost archaeology to development (eg 5000+ year-old Whitehawk causeway camp, a site now designated as a nationally important scheduled ancient monument, which in the past was part lost, part damaged, with racecourse and associated buildings, and more recently a housing estate, with appropriately named roads, Causeway and Monument View. A whole prehistoric and Romano-British field system (at Eastwick Barn) was destroyed by the construction of the A27 Brighton Bypass. As this site was another nationally important Scheduled Monument it was investigated and recorded prior to its destruction, funded as part of the road development.
- Changes to the planning laws currently being discussed nationally could reduce protection for our cultural heritage and result in the loss of both sites and recording (ie ‘Preservation by Record’).
- Many sites are lost through intensifying agriculture, virtually all of our ancient field systems have gone, although traces of some field systems are still visible in some locations by aerial photography, or on a low sun in mid-summer
- Damage to scheduled and non-scheduled monuments; even with a red line on a map to notify them, the setting is often destroyed, with cultivation and building developments right up to their edges and all around them, leaving ancient relics looking incongruous in a modern landscape.
- Chemical inputs damage artefacts underground.
- Neglect of sites can lead to damage underground, destroying those layers of history that have been built up over the millennia, tree roots running down into this underground, unseen heritage. Damage to sites by motorcycles, BMX cycles and even walkers cannot be policed easily.
- The Historic Environment Record (HER) is held at The Keep. A map of sites can be accessed via their website site. BHCC has a map of Archaeological Areas of Notification with regards planning applications. Please note however that these maps are based on known sites. Other areas without known sites are not necessarily blank and large developments in these areas should still be investigated to establish whether or not they do contain archaeological remains.
- The County Archaeologist at County Hall Lewes is the archaeological advisor to Brighton and Hove City Council. The Brighton and Hove Archaeological Society review planning applications and are consulted by BHCC about planning applications. Although BHAS flags up to both BHCC and County Hall about potential threats to our archaeological heritage from proposed developments, the system is not perfect and due diligence must be undertaken by planners.
- The Brighton and Hove Archaeological Society is the public access to archaeology, with projects including excavation and recording, research and non-intrusive geophysical projects. Anyone can join the Society. The aim of the Society is to protect and preserve where possible our heritage, and to raise the awareness of archaeology and to monitor and advise other groups on actions which could be to the detriment of ancient landscapes.