A NEW chapter in the history of the South Downs begins today, April 1, with the culmination of a 60-year campaign to create a South Downs National Park.
The new National Park authority becomes fully operational and takes on its legal powers, including that of planning authority, which will enable it to protect the previous downland from unwanted and inappropriate developments.
Its creation has it roots in a campaign by the South Downs Society, which was formed in 1923.
Just three years later, in 1926, society members found out that developers had purchased the Crowlink Estate on the Seven Sisters and proposed building a new town there. The society had just 28 days to raise £17,000 - £5 million in today’s money - to buy the land back and protect it for the nation.
Thousands of people joined the society’s campaign, including Rudyard Kipling, and after a massive public rally on the Seven Sisters, the money was raised, and the land purchased and donated to the National Trust.
It is appropriate that the formal launch of the South Downs National Park today, and its taking on the mantle of its planning and access duties, coincides with the 85th anniversary of the South Downs Society’s landmark campaign to stop the building of a new town on the Seven Sisters.
Robert Cheesman, chairman of the South Downs Society, said: “The campaign for a National Park for the South Downs has taken more than 60 years, and on April 1, a critical element of those many years of work falls into place.
“For more than 80 years, we have called for the South Downs to be safeguarded, and as the National Park Society, we look forward to helping the new authority achieve its goals of protecting the National Park, and helping the public to enjoy this very special part of Britain.”
Margaret Paren, chair of the South Downs National Park, said: “All of the communities within the Park will be able to look to the authority for leadership in protecting and enhancing the Downs over the years to come.
“We look forward to continuing to work with South Downs Society and other partners to keep the South Downs special.”
To mark the occasion, special celebrations have been planned.
The public is invited to join a celebratory five mile walk in Sussex. The walk starts at 10.15am from the East Dean Village car park just off Gilberts Drive (to Birling Gap) from the A259, close to the bus stop for the 12 and 12A buses which run from Eastbourne and Brighton.
The walk is a steady climb to the Sarsen Stone Memorial, which pays tribute to the campaigners of 1926, and then goes along the Seven Sisters to Birling Gap where there will be a stop for refreshments.
Charles Peck, vice chair of the National Park Authority, will be present to celebrate the day.
And in Petersfied, South Downs Society supporters will be mounting an exhibition and taking part in the celebrations in The Square organized by Petersfield Tomorrow during the day.
The Petersfield event will run from 11.45am to 2pm, with an official ceremony from 11.45am to 12.15pm.