South Downs National Character Area

The South Downs National Character Area is defined by the prominent chalk ridge that extends from the Hampshire Downs in the west and the coast cliffs of Beachy Head in East Sussex. The landscape is exceptionally diverse and is valued highly for its biodiversity, cultural and heritage. (MAP?)

The South Downs NCA provides multiple ecosystem services of which the benefits are received far beyond the reaches of the NCA boundary. Below are examples of some of the key services provided.

Provisioning Services:

Food Provision:
The complex geology and physical relief of the area has resulted in a rich provision of multiple food sources including cereals grown on the dip slope, meat (notably South Downs lamb) reared on the eastern downs, and dairy produce farmed within the valleys. There are also localised pig and poultry farms.

Water Availability:
The chalk aquifers lying beneath the chalk hills are a major source of water, including drinking water, irrigation for farms and gardens and water for industry, for the NCA. Additionally the groundwater in the chalk feeds many wetlands, stream and rivers and provides all the water abstracted for public supply.

Did you know?

Restoring chalk grassland could have a major impact in relation to aquifer recharge through a reduction in run-off rates and increased water infiltration with reduced soil compaction.

Did you know?

Wet and alluvial soils such as those found in our floodplains can remove 0.5-2.4 kg of nitrogen ha-1 day-1 and as such play a key role in improving water quality.

Regulating Services:

Regulating soil quality:
Seventy six percent of the NCA is covered with shallow lime-rich soils over chalk (63%) and deeper, freely draining lime-rich loamy soils (13%) which are valuable for aquifer recharge and have a degree of natural resilience due to their calcareous nature.

Regulating water quality and flow:
The natural habitats within the NCA including reedbeds, grassland and flood plain areas provide natural cleansing for water feeding into the 5 major rivers that dissect the area of which four are classified as having moderate or good ecological status. The natural floodplains of the River Arun and Adur provide a service by storing vast amounts of floodwater and the natural landscape additionally helps to buffer a large amount of rainwater contributing to lowering the risk of flooding within the area.

Cultural Services:

There are nearly 2,000 km of rights of way, including the South Downs National Trail, within the NCA providing access to just over 12,000 ha of land. Recreation is, as such, a significant feature providing additional health benefits, a sense of place and history and an opportunity for tranquillity.

The area is home to a rich variety of habitats and species, many of which are of national and/or international importance and a priority for conservation.

Did you know?

The South Downs National Park attracts some 39 million visitor trips per year!