A group of South Downs volunteers who help protect some of Britain’s rarest habitats have received national recognition in a prestigious award scheme.
The 17 volunteers from the Heathlands Reunited project were highly-commended in the National Parks’ UK Volunteer Awards, which recognises outstanding volunteers across the UK’s 15 National Parks.
The commendation came after the group undertook extensive research into the history of South Downs heathland, culminating in them writing a fun and informative storybook that is now available in libraries and soon to be circulated to local schools.
Heathlands Reunited volunteer Elaine Ireland, from Fernhurst, said: “As a cultural heritage volunteer on the National Park’s Heathlands Reunited project, I learned so much about our local heathland through field trips, archive research and oral history. It was a pleasure to volunteer.
“What a wonderful opportunity to volunteer and be guided into turning our research into stories for children – and be published!”
The book, entitled The Fish, The Goatsucker and The Highwayman, includes stories relating to 18th century family life on the heath, the tales of highwaymen, the Selborne and Headley riots, and the Second World War.
Katy Sherman, engagement officer for the lottery-funded Heathlands Reunited project, said: “We were delighted to find out that from all of the nominations made across the UK National Parks, our heritage volunteers were highly commended in the group category, only just missing out on the top spot.
“It’s an amazing achievement, highlighting the unique heritage of the South Downs and the hard work our volunteers put in to researching and communicating the stories of our heaths.
“The volunteers’ efforts on the storybook have been wide-reaching, facilitating storytelling workshops for local communities which have taken place in libraries across the project area. The book is available to loan from these libraries.
“It will also soon be circulated to local schools as an addition to their libraries and will be an excellent resource for teaching young people about their local heritage.”
South Downs National Park youth ambassadors Kirsty Ferris and Cameron Macdonald, both from Littlehampton, were also highly-commended in the National Parks’ UK Volunteer Awards.
Daniel Greenwood, volunteering development officer for the South Downs National Park, said: “They have done so much to promote the voice of young people in the South Downs, including giving talks at conferences and undertaking social media takeovers to champion youth action.
“Their impact has resulted in the creation of a youth volunteering initiative known as South Downs Youth Action.”
The sites included in the Heathlands Reunited project in the South Downs National Park are Slab and Warren (MOD) and Shortheath Common; Kingsley Common (MOD) and Broxhead Common; Ludshott Common, Passfield Common and Bramshott Chase; Woolmer Forest and Longmoor enclosure (MOD); Bramshott Common (MOD); Durford Heath, Combe Hill, Hambledon Piece and Tullecombe; Coldharbour Wood and Chapel Common; Shufflesheeps, Iron Hill, Stanley and Lynchmere Common; Marley Common and Black Down; Woolbeding; Iping, Stedham and Trotton Common; Ambersham and Heyshott Common; Graffham Common, Lavington Common/Plantation, New Piece, Welches and Warren; and Wiggonholt Common and Rackham Plantation.
The project, led by the South Downs National Park Authority, has seen 11 organisations join forces to expand and connect the existing one per cent of heathland left in the national park.
The heaths have separated into ‘islands’ where isolated plants and animals are far more vulnerable to local extinction.
This habitat is home to some of Britain’s rarest wildlife including all 12 of our native reptiles and amphibians.
Launched in 2016 the project runs until 2021, and is funded by partner contributions and a National Lottery Heritage funded grant.
As well as expanding, creating new and improving existing heathland, the project aims to reengage and inspire communities to visit their heathlands, learn more about them and work together to look after them so they can be enjoyed for generations to come.
For more information about the Heathlands Reunited project visit the South Downs National Park website.