photo of the South Downs, UK

5 great things to do in the South Downs National Park

Want to discover nature and beautiful landscapes by public transport this summer? Look no further than the 624 square miles of the South Downs National Park. We asked Friends of the Earth staff and volunteers, and our Twitter and Instagram followers, to tell us about their favourite places to visit.

The South Downs Way

This 100-mile long footpath crosses some of England's most beautiful countryside from the ancient city of Winchester in the west to the white cliffs at Eastbourne in the east. Dramatic views over the chalk downlands and rolling hills greet ramblers as they pass the pretty town of Petersfield and reach the summit of Devil's Dyke near Brighton. Walkers can attempt the whole route, with a great selection of pubs and accommodation along the way. A number of the shorter sections are suitable for day-trippers and easily accessed by train and bus.

Walk the South Downs Way.

Gilbert White's house at Selbourne

Gilbert White was a village parson whose book 'The Natural History of Selbourne' is a seminal text on wildlife and nature in southern England in the late 1700s. A visit to his home is a must for natural history fans, where his exquisite drawings and detailed descriptions are on display. White is perhaps most famous for his careful study of the songs of the chiffchaff (pictured) and willow warbler, which revealed that they were in fact two different species. Don't miss the immense stump of the Selbourne yew tree, which after 1,400 years overlooking the village churchyard succumbed to the great storm of 1990.

Visit Gilbert White's house

The Seven Sisters cliffs at Eastbourne

The dramatic series of white chalk cliffs is cut into one of the most unspoilt stretches of coastline in the UK. The cliffs and the Belle Tout lighthouse are best viewed from Seaford Head and can be reached along the hugely popular Glynde to Seaford walk. Visit the site of the ancient village of Exceat, thought to have once been a naval base of King Alfred the Great, or take the beach path that runs under the cliffs. Hoopoe, bluethroat and wryneck have all been spotted here. At low tide it's a delight of rock-pools just waiting to be explored.

Visit the Seven Sisters Country Park.

The Kingley Vale trail

The Kingley Vale reserve near Chichester contains one of the finest yew forests in western Europe. It includes a grove of trees which are among the oldest living things in Britain. Exploring under the gnarled and twisted trunks of these 1,000 year old trees is like passing into an ancient world. The forest is a haven for species such as green woodpecker and bee orchids, and there is an enormous messy badger sett close to the main path.

Explore Kingley Vale

The Serpent Trail

This trail snakes through beautiful West Sussex heathland and winds around the towns of Liphook, Petworth and reaches Petersfield. The route is site of an annual ultra marathon which involves long distance races of 50 or 100-kilometres. Highlights on the Serpent Trail include passing through the Sussex Wealden Greensand Heaths Project. The Greensand ridge culminates at Leith Hill in the Surrey Hills AONB, a site which has seen recent protests against plans to drill for oil.

Photo credit: Instagram/rachrunsoutdoors

Run or walk the Serpent Trail

How Friends of the Earth helped the South Downs

Friends of the Earth played an important role in getting the South Downs recognised as a National Park. During the 1990s, our Brighton & Hove local group carried out stunts such as 'un-ploughing', after a local farmer destroyed a scientifically important downland site. They also wrote submissions to a public inquiry, and lobbied local politicians and Labour leader Tony Blair in the run-up to the 1997 general election. The South Downs was finally recognised in 2010 and today that protection is continuing to stop oil drilling in its tracks.

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