A £1.4 million improvement plan for the Seven Sisters Country Park has been revealed today as it was announced the South Downs National Park will soon take it over.
The authority was named as the preferred bidder for the park and said the ambitious plan would include improving habitat for seven key species and creating a world-class visitor experience.
Following a decision by East Sussex County Council’s deputy leader Nick Bennett, a process will begin to finalise the terms and transfer ownership of the iconic 280-hectare site to the national park authority.
The site will remain in public ownership and it is expected the site will be fully transferred over and under the stewardship of the SDNPA by March 2020.
As part of a long-term plan to conserve and enhance the country park, the authority says it wants to improve habitat for seven important native animal and plant species which are indicators of biodiversity and landscape quality – the Breeding Lapwing, Adonis Blue Butterfly, Redshank, Meadowsweet, Ringed Plover, Reed Warbler and the Wigeon.
It also wants to create a “world-class visitor experience through improved interpretation and education displays to tell the story of the country park’s landscape, habitats, wildlife and the effects of climate change”; refurbish the visitor centre and extend opening hours to improve the experience for visitors; improve trails and bird watching facilities to make the country park a destination for wildlife watching and introduce careful landscape management to increase chalk grassland, grazing marsh and wet meadows to enhance biodiversity.
Trevor Beattie, the chief executive of the South Downs National Park Authority, said, “Seven Sisters Country Park offers some of the most stunning views in the world but it could be so much more. We would like to make it a national centre for biodiversity, conservation and climate change, telling the story of this extraordinary landscape to a wide audience and using it to test out new approaches to the national challenge of climate change.
“There is huge potential to create an exemplar in the management of chalk grassland and to create world-class wetlands in Seven Sisters Country Park. We’re pleased to have been chosen as the preferred bidder and it marks an exciting new chapter for the South Downs National Park as we approach our 10th birthday next year. East Sussex County Council has done a fantastic job and we now want to build on that further to improve people’s understanding of this national treasure. We’re looking forward to further enhancing this wonderful national and international icon for future generations.”
Councillor Bennett said, “I know how valued our countryside sites are by residents and visitors and it’s vital we put them on the best footing so they can be enjoyed for generations to come. Keeping these sites in public ownership and transferring them to organisations with proven experience in conservation, involving local communities and improving the experience for visitors will safeguard their long-term future.
“I was really impressed by the commitment the South Downs National Park Authority has shown to protecting, enhancing and improving one of our most iconic sites.
“It has been able to pledge the kind of significant investment the council is not in a position to deliver, which will go towards improving biodiversity and creating a world-class visitor experience.”
The SDNPA will apply best practice from other nationally and internationally significant sites to improve the biodiversity and enhance the visitor experience.
Although interesting bird species such as avocets do visit the country park, they rarely stay. With expert management to provide a rich food source for birds, it is hoped the area will attract much larger numbers of birds, as well as other native species, in the years ahead.
The Seven Species of Seven Sisters:
Adonis Blue Butterfly – This brilliant blue butterfly is the iconic species of species-rich chalk grassland. To have the slopes bejewelled with large numbers of this butterfly in August will show that we have healthy chalk grassland.
Breeding Lapwing – Seeing the fluffy chicks of this bird would be the ultimate indicator of success in creating new wet meadow and grazing marsh.
Redshank – A common wader but there is little room for this species to breed in the Country Park. Space for this bird in the saltmarsh and wetter areas can be created.
Meadowsweet – Meadows filled with a hundred swaying flowers including the meadowsweet with its creamy white candyfloss flower heads.
Ringed plover – A tiny wader that lays its camouflaged eggs on the shingle, the return of this bird to breed will require careful management of the shoreline habitats.
Reed warbler – A bird that relies on reed bed habitat brings alive the ditches with its insistent warble from deep within its secret home in the reeds.
Wigeon – Plaintive whistles will drift across the flooded winter meadows from flocks of hundreds of this chestnut headed duck feeding alongside other ducks and geese.