Sussex Downs Maps

The AONB encompasses the full rolling sweep of chalk downland in East and West Sussex plus an extensive area of the Weald to the north-west.

The landscape is dominated by the prominent north-facing downland scarp which runs almost continuously from Eastbourne to Hampshire. From the crest, more gentle slopes fall away south to the coastal plain and to the sea. The chalk is characteristically cut by dry valleys or combes and in the east the downs meet the sea as magnificent cliffs, including Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters, which are managed as Heritage Coast. The AONB also protects the pastoral, wooded and richly farmed landscapes at the foot of the downs and extends north-west onto the hilly, wooded sandstones and clays of the Weald.

The AONB contains many important habitats including lowland heath and chalk grassland and four National Nature Reserves. The steep chalk scarps with their rare remnants of ancient downland turf are rich in flowers and butterflies and were designated as an Environmentally Sensitive Area in 1986. Much of the downland has been ploughed for arable farming and only five per cent of the chalk turf survives. Prehistoric field patterns and remains dating back to earliest civilisations are another integral and vulnerable part of the AONB landscape with ancient hill-forts, barrows, Roman roads and deserted medieval villages representing the long continuity of human influences.

There are two modestly sized towns in the AONB, Petworth and Midhurst, plus other sizable settlements whose traditional buildings in brick, flint, chalk and timber contributes to the landscape character. This is a prosperous area, with a rural economy based on large arable holdings together with horticulture, commercial forestry and mineral working. The AONB is also an important commuter area for Eastbourne, Brighton, Portsmouth and London.

The AONB attracts both local, day and holiday visitor use from the nearby South Coast resorts and from the London catchment area to the north. Heaviest demand focuses on nationally known sites such as Beachy Head and Devil's Dyke and on popular viewpoints such as Ditchling Beacon. The intensively used South Downs Way passes through the AONB.

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