Why not check out the varied programme of volunteer tasks on offer throughout the year? Also have a look at our Downlands Partnership countryside volunteers Facebook page , which features news and photos from our weekly task programme and more. Volunteering in the glorious local countryside is great for happiness, health and habitat.
Nature in downland
The animals seasonally rotate graze the chalk downland as part of the long-term countryside management partnership programme. Find out more about our conservation grazing work by visiting downygrazers and Downlands grazing on Facebook.
Follow us on social media. Skip to main content. The South Downs is comprised of tilted layers of relatively soft chalk containing bands and seams of flint. Both the chalk and the flint are the remains of animals and plants from the Cretaceous period over million years ago. This soil type, called rendzina, only allows slow rates of plant growth, and is largely responsible for the diversity of small, low-growing herbs in this area. The South Downs looks like the quintessential English landscape of rolling green hills but man's intervention has had a major impact on the landscape.
Nature watchers should look out for a wide range of moths including the brightly coloured pink and green Elephant Hawk Moth, the Large Yellow Underwing and the Blood Vein.
Surrey County Council - Downlands Partnership
The South Downs is very rich in plant species. Nearly half of the orchid species native to Britain occur in the grassland and woodland of the South Downs. Other plants which flourish are the Round-Headed Rampion and the rare Early Gentian which like calcium rich soils.
The South Downs Natural Area is also rich in animal species due to the wide variety of countryside from arable fields to chalk cliffs, wetland and ancient woodland. Peregrines breed on the chalk cliffs whilst the plateau and scarp woodlands and scrub are home to birds such as the Nightingale and Nightjar. There were smells of wild thyme and marjoram, bright yellow flowers of hawkbit and lady's bedstraw.
Hudson describes mistle thrushes feasting on the berries in the famous Kingley Bottom yew grove; from where I sat I could see the dark tangle of this, the biggest yew forest in Europe with 35, trees, filling the sides of the combe below. Road noise was negligible up here, the sound of a distant jet not much more than a murmur.
As in pre-motor car days, the loudest sound was the hum of bees in the heather and the chirp of tits and thrushes in the trees. Hudson valued "the wonderful silence of the Downs", but rejoiced even more in "the songs and calls and cries of the winged people".
Many of those songs have been stilled since his day, of course. Intensive mechanical agriculture, use of pesticides, loss of habitat and encroachment of building development have between them seen corncrake, wryneck, whinchat, red-backed shrike and cirl bunting disappear from the Sussex Downs during the 20th century, while such birds as grey partridge, lapwing, snipe and wheatear have gone into steep decline.
But all is not doom and gloom. Buzzard, bearded tit which Hudson called "reed pheasant" and kittiwake have reappeared since , when he reported them as having been "extirpated". Eight new species have established themselves, too. Walking the footpaths that crisscross Applesham Farm, just north of Lancing, I spotted buzzards and sparrowhawks, heard skylarks 50 per cent decline in the past 10 years and corn buntings down 85 per cent since , and saw brilliant blue and brown butterflies among the scabious, trefoils and orchids of the farm's chalk grassland slopes.
Why this richness of nature? Because Applesham Farm is run by its wildlife-friendly owner as an old-fashioned mixed farm with animals, cereals, grassland and clover leys.
Here winter stubbles are left for birds to feed on the scattered grain. Spring wheat is undersown with clovers and medick to encourage sawfly, whose protein-rich larvae help young great partridge and skylark chicks to thrive. If more farmers were to pursue policies such as these, the general decline in UK bird numbers could be reversed. The science is there, developed and understood since Hudson's day.
The job of the RSPB and other conservation bodies today is to persuade farmers to take note of it. I heard larks again on another hot day when I tramped for miles on Ditchling Beacon a few miles north of Brighton. Hudson counted 64 harebells in a measured square yard here in August I could not do quite as well, but managed Hungry and thirsty, I came down at last to the hamlet of East Dean, a delectable grouping of flint cottages and a village pub round a sloping green.