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Brighton and Lewes Downs is first new UNESCO world Biosphere site in UK in 40 years

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Designating the Biosphere

Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere logo - 200

The Brighton and Lewes Downs saw the first completely new Biosphere site in the UK established for almost forty years and the first ever in south-east England.

The Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere (which includes part of Adur area up to the River Adur, the Downs behind Shoreham-by-Sea and Southwick and Shoreham Beach) was awarded this designation by UNESCO’s International Coordinating Council (ICC) of the 'Man and the Biosphere' (MAB) programme, which met in Sweden earlier on Wednesday 11th June 2014. It joins a global network of more than 600 'world-class environments' in over 100 countries, and is one of only a handful worldwide to include a city.

Achieving the status of a new World Biosphere site follows six years' work by the Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere partnership to develop its bid. The partnership of some forty organisations, with Brighton & Hove City Council as a lead partner, includes other local authorities, public bodies, voluntary, educational and community organisations and private sector business.

Martin Price, Chair of the UK National Committee for UNESCO’s Man & the Biosphere (MAB) Programme, reports from the UNESCO meeting in Sweden:

“I am very glad to say that the decision was taken today to approve the Brighton & Lewes Downs as a new Biosphere for the UK, so it is now a globally-recognised site of excellence where many individuals and organisations work in partnership to foster all aspects of sustainable development across the region.”

Chair of the Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere partnership, Chris Todd says:

“This is world recognition for the fantastic environment we have here and for all the hard work that local people put into looking after it. Now we have this accolade, we aim to build on the partnership to do even greater things. This is not about telling people what to do but creating a vision for the future. More and more people are living in cities and we need to find ways of making them more pleasant places to live. We need to make sure that we build nature into the equation while raising awareness of how the natural environment contributes to our wealth and well-being.”

Jeremy Burgess, Eastern Downs Area Manager for the South Downs National Park and Vice Chair of the Biosphere partnership said:

“Getting Biosphere status for this part of the South Downs and surrounding area is a great achievement. It means that an area already protected nationally for its special landscapes has been recognised internationally for the importance of its wildlife and the role it can play in improving quality of life and boosting a greener economy for the millions of people who live around it. The National Park isn’t an island and we hope that Biosphere status will help us reach out and encourage more visits, research and investment across the area.”

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Where is our Biosphere?

The Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere area covers all of the land and near-shore coastal waters between the two rivers of the Adur in the west and the Ouse in the east.

The northern boundary of the South Downs National Park marks its northern limits, while it also includes the city of Brighton & Hove and neighbouring towns of Lewes, Newhaven, Peacehaven, Shoreham-by-Sea, Telscombe, Southwick and Shoreham Beach.

Extending two nautical miles out to sea, it also includes part of one of the first 'Marine Conservation Zones' designated by the Government last year.

See also:


  • UNESCO - United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation
  • Biosphere Reserves are internationally recognised by UNESCO as 'sites of excellence' to balance conservation and socio-economic development between nature and people, and explore and demonstrate innovative approaches as learning sites for sustainable development.
  • There are 621 sites across 117 countries that make up the World Network of Biosphere Reserves; the UK presently has five sites, of which three are active modern Biosphere sites: North Devon (England), Dyfi (Wales), and Galloway & Southern Ayrshire (Scotland).
  • Biosphere Reserves are not statutory restrictive protected areas, but are places where people work together to pursue 'win-win' solutions that improve our quality of life and local economy whilst enhancing the local environment.

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About the Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere

Our Biosphere has three objectives to be jointly delivered:

  • Conserve and enhance nature
  • Support human development that is sustainable
  • Encourage environmental knowledge, learning and awareness and engagement

It thus aims to not only look after and improve the natural environment, but also better engage people in the nature on their doorsteps and promote action to reduce the environmental impacts of our lifestyles.

The Biosphere Partnership’s priorities for action to make improvements are:

  • environmental awareness;
  • outdoor recreation & eco-tourism;
  • water use and quality;
  • and green space networks.

Our Biosphere brings together three distinct, but connected, environments: 

  • Countryside - which is part of the South Downs National Park (our Biosphere's 'Buffer Zone', and including 'Core Areas' - Sites of Special Scientific Interest)
  • Coast - extending 2 nautical miles out to sea in the English Channel (our Biosphere’s marine 'Buffer Zone' and 'Transition Area')
  • City & Towns - Brighton & Hove, Shoreham, Lewes, Newhaven, Peacehaven, Telscombe, Southwick and Shoreham Beach (our Biosphere's land 'Transition Area')

The Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere Partnership is made up of around 40 different local organisations, including all of the local authorities as well as other public bodies and representatives from the voluntary, private and educational sectors. The Partnership Board meets regularly to steer project delivery.

When inscribed by UNESCO on 11th June 2014, our Biosphere will be:

“one of only a handful of sites with major urban settlements worldwide; the first completely new site in the UK in almost 40 years; the only site in south-east England.”

Anticipated benefits of becoming an international Biosphere area include:

  • improved quality of life through a healthier and more resilient environment ('helping nature to help ourselves'), e.g. drinking water quality; reconnecting people to their local environment, reinforcing community identity and pride;
  • heightened profile for the local area and its environment, boosting the visitor offer and helping to attract external investment, e.g. European grant funding and new tourism business;
  • encouraging more environmental research and education on the local area;
  • and encouraging collaborative working across different administrative areas and sectors, for the benefit of people and nature.

As a non-statutory designation, Biosphere status will not impose any new regulation on land management or other practices, but will instead incentivise higher standards in environmental policy, planning and practical delivery by local bodies working more closely together.

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Biosphere facts and figures

  • Almost 1,500 local people have signed up as 'Friends of the Biosphere' supporters, which all interested individuals are encouraged to do at events and through the project website.
  • The Biosphere project has been presented at 150 public events/meetings over two years.
  • Almost 1,800 individuals inputted to the public consultation run in early 2013, of which around 95% supported the Biosphere proposal and its objectives.
  • Our Biosphere area is the block of land and sea between the River Adur at Shoreham-by-Sea in the west and the River Ouse at Newhaven in the east; it covers 389 square kilometres (or 150 square miles), an area just larger than the Isle of Wight.
  • 371,500 people live here, and the area receives around 12 million visitors each year.
  • The area has an approximate economic value of £7 billion.
  • Thousands of species of wildlife occur, including more than 200 international conservation priorities.
  • Internationally important wildlife habitats include chalk grassland on the South Downs, vegetated shingle beaches, and undersea chalk reefs.
  • The local environment provides us with many of our daily needs, including pure water, clean energy, fresh air, local food, and open space for recreation.

For more information, including a short video on the new Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere area, please visit:

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Best of our Biosphere

A journey around the Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere area ...

Urban areas:

Brighton & Hove

  • Whitehawk Camp & Hill - one of the earliest 'proto-urban' settlements in Europe (from Neolithic times!), now the subject of a new Lottery funded project to research, interpret and engage local people; also a Local Nature Reserve with grazed chalk grassland being restored, plus new community orchard at the north end
  • Dorothy Stringer Butterfly Havens, Surrenden campus - two pioneering excavated chalk bank areas created with planted wildflowers to successfully create new habitat for rare butterflies and other insects, with this model now being rolled out to other local green spaces using current Nature Improvement Area (NIA) DEFRA funding - potentially a lot more havens will be created around the whole schools campus 
  • Hollingbury Hillfort & Wild Park - accessible site with great panoramic views of much of the Biosphere area, chalk grassland habitat (and restoration areas from scrub/woodland), Iron Age hillfort at top, a top Victorian spot for butterfly hunting; links with new sustainable transport scheme(s) for Ditchling Road and Lewes Road below to East) 
  • Sussex Heights building - Peregrine Falcons nest on roof (and Shoreham Power Station) 
  • ‘Green Flag’ award parks in Brighton, including mature elm trees (part of the National Elm Collection, of international significance - 17,000 elms)
    • Preston Park has the 'Preston Twins' (the two largest English Elm trees in the world),
    • The Level has been restored with many examples of good practice in park facilities
    • also Hove Park and Easthill Park to west
  • Foredown Tower - 'camera obscura' attraction and links to nearby Downland
  • Green building developments - a number of good examples including 'One Brighton' flats near station, Jubilee Library, University of Brighton green roof and solar array at Moulsecoomb campus, Earthship building at Stanmer, various private residences new/retrofits (e.g. one on Ditchling Road), plus University of Sussex 1960s campus in Downland setting (with proposals for extensive green landscaping) - new Royal Sussex proposes much greenery and then Westergate business park, Moulsecoomb - green office and industrial units. Downsview college on Surrenden campus has green roof and wind turbine. Various council retrofit cladding and solar panel installations (blocks of flats large and small).
  • Wildflower planting along highways and on housing estates e.g. Eastern Road, Albion Hill
  • Moulsecoomb Forest Garden & Moulsecoomb Primary School - pioneering successful projects to engage young people from deprived backgrounds in the environment on their doorstep
  • Allotments - one of the largest areas of allotments in the country, and very popular across the 3,000 holders

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  • Railway Land nature reserve, with Linklater Pavilion - urban fringe ex-industrial wetland area with chalk winterbourne stream, eco-art and innovative green building and environmental education centre
  • Cemetery - is a Local Wildlife Site including chalk grassland, with a new focus on conservation management apparently 
  • Harveys' local beer with large solar panel installation
  • OVESCO - community energy co-operative
  • Egret Way
    • new planned cycle/walking trail along Ouse valley to Newhaven
    • Mount Caburn-Malling Down & Landport Bottom nearby, under 'Rural' (below)
    • numerous cultural aspects, e.g. Battle of Lewes 750th anniversary, bonfire societies

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Newhaven (+ Peacehaven & Telscombe)

  • Newhaven
    • two nature sites: Castle Hill and Tide Mills (detailed under 'Coast' below)
    • Energy Recovery facility & new University Technical College - part of the expanding 'GreenTech' focus of economic regeneration locally
  • Peacehaven
    • new Wastewater Treatment Works has one of the largest green roofs in Europe, with Downland grass mix covering the equivalent of three football pitches; adjacent new Big Park Project creating a modern multifunctional park from scratch (as 'planning gain' development)
    • Greenwich Meridian passes through here 
  • Telscombe Tye
    • a popular green Downland area reaching down to the sea, and breaking up the otherwise continuous urban coastal development; owned by the Town Council

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  • Adur Ferry Bridge - new footbridge offering great views along the river to the houseboats, mudflats and saltmarsh of the RSPB nature reserve upstream - see also: Adur Ferry Bridge
  • rural and coastal nature sites
  • historic cultural interest

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Rural (South Downs National Park) (East to West):

  • Mont Caburn / Lewes Downs - internationally important chalk grassland, large area right by Lewes/Glynde, hillfort & historic interest, great views down Ouse river valley
  • Southerham Pits - three geological SSSIs including fossil interest
  • Landport Bottom - chalk grassland and historic site of the Battle of Lewes, LDC manage with Plumpton College, close to local people, old racecourse
  • Lewes Brooks - wetland SSSI and RSPB reserve, main interest in winter with flooded grassland and wading birds, access poor
  • Offham Marshes - rare wet woodland fed by chalk springs (Downland chalk streams are a rare habitat), accessible? Toad migration at Offham across A273 
  • Offham Hill - site of popular protest in 1990s against ploughing of SSSI chalk grassland - forced John Gummer MP, then Env Sec to order only 4th stop notice to protect site and kick-started national park campaign in local area - locals came up to protect the site from further damage and then 'unploughed' the land. Chalk Pit pub - still has tunnels under A273 that were used to take chalk down to river Ouse for transportation to local fields to mix with clay to break it up and make it better for farming.
  • Black Cap - National Trust site with SSSI woodland and chalk grassland 
  • Castle Hill - internationally important chalk grassland, with many wildflowers and rare species including early spider orchid and the wart-biter cricket, good access on foot /bike off the historic Juggs Road (daily fish was carried along) from Woodingdean to Lewes
  • Beacon Hill - chalk grassland on fringe of Rottingdean with historic windmill and active local friends group, proposals for Local Nature Reserve expansion and new visitor/interpretation facilities as the 'Beacon Hub'
  • Stanmer Park - landscaped parkland, the best/most popular urban fringe site for people, major restoration project proposed by BHCC as SDNP gateway including buildings & interpretation, accessible, facilities, heritage interest; organic farming and tree project safeguarding old Sussex apple tree varieties
  • Ditchling Beacon - the highest point of the area, great views, SWT reserve with chalk grassland, on South Downs Way, limited parking bus service and route of London to Brighton Bike Ride passes here. Road has 'steps' in it where runners boys from Ditchling would follow stagecoach up Ditchling Beacon and chock the wheels of the stagecoach on these flatter parts to give the horses a breather.
  • Lodge Hill - private but accessible site adjacent to Ditchling with good wildlife and old nuclear command bunker. 
  • Ditchling - one of the most complete strip parishes still remaining largely as it was; much culture interest plus Ridgeview award-winning wine business and Oldland Mill.
  • Part of Ditchling Common SSSI to north included in SDNP / Biosphere area. 
  • Wolstonbury Hill - the best chalk grassland with wildflowers in the area probably, good views, access harder; quite close to Jack & Jill windmills (Clayton)
  • Devil's Dyke - the best Downland site in the area, NT owned/managed, amazing dry chalk valley, chalk grassland (good butterfly/moth populations), extensive views, hillfort, Victorian history, good access and pub; close to Saddlescombe Farm with teashop, interpretative barn, small campsite good bus service
  • Green Ridge / Coney Wood - grassland and woodland on fringes of Brighton; dormice found here
  • Benfield Hill - small but well-managed Local Nature Reserve with good chalk grassland, just north of A27 so close to residents glow-worms found here
  • Southwick Hill - 'green bridge' of grassland over A27 tunnel so direct connection to the Downs, NT owned/managed
  • Woods Mill - ancient woodland, wetlands, paths & signage (Sussex WT HQ), educational activities high quality chalk streams here or nearby in Edburton
  • New Erringham Farm - scene of ploughing up of restored chalk species rich grassland - happened one week before Offham Down - started controversy - together two sites helped lead to change CROW ACT 2000.
  • Mill Hill - good chalk grassland (managed by SDNPA for Adur DC), Local Nature Reserve, rare butterflies etc, car access, good views - see also: Mill Hill

See also:

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Coastal/Marine (East to West):

  • Tide Mills, Newhaven - internationally rare vegetated shingle habitat and coastal wetland (Ouse Estuary nature reserve) present, part threatened by future port expansion though, Friends group looks after
  • Castle Hill-West Beach, Newhaven - to the west of the port, is a historic/leisure visitor attraction with a cliff-top flowery grassland Local Nature Reserve and ‘interesting’ natural slumping cliffs - interesting geology - quartz band
  • Undercliff walk - rock pools, chalk cliffs (a geological SSSI, with ice age fossils) new Marine Conservation Zone with undersea chalk reef, access for rock-pooling etc; old ‘daddy long legs’ tram lines visible at low tide
  • Brighton Marina - coastal lagoon environment (albeit artificial) with reported small rare seahorses population present; plus staging point for offshore boat/angling/diving (including undersea chalk outcrops/wrecks) trips (plus Rampion wind farm in future?)
  • Volks Railway - internationally rare vegetated shingle habitat at various points (in addition to historic/cultural interest); plus the green wall along Madeira Drive is one of the oldest and largest in existence
  • Pier(s) - starling 'murmurations' when starlings flock together in flight (winter mainly, less than previously), big expanse of sand exposed at low spring tides to sea the seabed, scope for some environmental interpretation surely! (at least with proposed i360 tower), plus links to Sea Life Centre 
  • Shoreham Harbour - has a large new solar array, plus the beach is a well-known surf spot at the hot pipe plus there are patches of vegetated shingle present
  • Shoreham Beach - a Local Nature Reserve, the best local example of vegetated shingle habitat; next to Sustrans cycling route, accessible by new footbridge from the town, near to historic Shoreham Fort with interpretation centre - see also: Shoreham Beach
  • Adur Estuary - a SSSI and small RSPB reserve, with the only local example of saltmarsh habitat, extensive mudflats and good wading bird numbers (in winter mostly); Downs Link cycle/walking path follows it upstream - old wooden Toll Bridge (recently restored) - old line of A27 - see also River Adur

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Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere logo - 470