LETTER: This downland is held in trust

The following letter has been sent to Cllr David Tutt, Leader of Eastbourne Borough Council:

We, the South Downs Network of organisations with an environmental interest in the National Park, urge you to stop the proposed sale of the four farms, comprising three-quarters of the Eastbourne downland estate.

This land is an invaluable public asset for the people of Eastbourne, for the local area and visitors from further afield. It has great value for its rich natural capital, its biodiversity and cultural heritage, to public amenity and the town’s drinking water supply.

It is vital that ownership and management rest with the borough council, as the democratic, publicly-accountable local authority for Eastbourne, to continue its great work in conserving and enhancing the land and complying with the words and spirit of the 1926 Eastbourne Corporation Act.

Under your careful ownership there is a synergy of the tenant farmers’ sheep grazing; people wandering from ‘honeypot’ sites to the more tranquil downland and chalk grassland restoration enabled by ‘joining up’ different compartments. This synergy would fail if the estate was broken up.

We hear assurances that you have given about the land being in the National Park, rights of way being protected and covenants on the land. However, from practical experience across the South Downs this will not safeguard the Eastbourne downs. No guarantees can be given that current, relatively benign farming practices will continue.

Recent examples show how insecure these apparent protections are. Twyford Down in Hampshire was a legally protected Site of Special Scientific Interest and Scheduled Ancient Monument – destroyed. Covenants on Brighton Marina to prevent building higher than the cliffs – tested and torn up in the Court of Appeal. St Mary’s Farm, sold by Brighton Council and subsequently to an investment bank, which, to gain a good return on its investment, rented it to an intensive arable farmer who ploughed up the grassland and to a commercial shoot that bulldozed out copse-centres for game rearing.

We strongly recommend that the council re-thinks its policy, looks more closely at the range of ecosystem services that the Eastbourne downland generates and sets out a renewed vision for its downs in harmony with its people.

This should respect the fact that the land is held in trust by the council on behalf of the people of Eastbourne.

If you take this approach we will be more than happy to work with you, in partnership, to maximise the benefits from public land ownership; you can be assured that this would be a most popular move, applauded by the people of Eastbourne.

DR TONY WHITBREAD

Chairman, South Downs Network

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