Two years ago the South Downs National Park launched an ambitious initiative called ReNature. The mission was to create nature everywhere, for everyone, and establish new wildlife havens and improve existing wildlife habitats. Fast forward to present day and some major achievements have been made.
More than £5m has been raised for nature recovery and the National Park is working on over 368 active nature recovery projects with its partners.
The initiative has already helped to create over 400 hectares of new wildlife habitat – or almost 1,000 football pitches – such as new ponds, grasslands and wildflower meadows, to help nature flourish.
In addition to newly-created wildlife havens, 4,312 hectares of existing habitat has been improved for nature – an area bigger than the city of Portsmouth. This work includes planting over 16,383 trees in the last year and creating or restoring 14 ponds which provide crucial habitat for so many of our species.
There are big plans for the future, with an additional 1,200 hectares already having been put forward for future habitat creation or secured via a ReNature Credits Scheme, and the National Park working on over 368 active nature recovery projects with its partners.
ReNature launched exactly two years ago with two primary goals:
This month the National Park will be celebrating the ReNature initiative with a week-long festival full of guided walks, a competition and online nature-based films, running from 22 July to 30 July.
Jan Knowlson, Biodiversity Officer for the National Park, said: “We have some amazing biodiversity in the National Park, including a huge variety of butterflies, birds, reptiles and amphibians. But even here in the South Downs, nature is struggling and needs our help.
“We’re really pleased to have created this new wildlife habitat that will allow nature to start bouncing back over the coming years.
“Nature recovery takes time and this is just the start of the habitat creation and improvement we can achieve.
“Nature recovery in the South Downs National Park will not be one big ‘rewilding’ project – it will be achieved through lots of different projects, both large and small, that together create wildlife recovery. Ultimately, we want nature everywhere for everyone.”
During the ReNature festival, the National Park will be inviting the public to help nature by taking a pledge to Take Action for Nature and Climate. The pledges includes seven easy things that anyone can do such as making a home for nature, buying local, and recycling. People simply need to fill in the pledge form online before 1 September and they will be entered into a prize draw for a year’s membership to The Wildlife Trusts or a family ticket to Marwell Zoo. Visit www.southdowns.gov.uk/pledge/
Anyone visiting the National Park’s visitor centres in Midhurst or at Seven Sisters Country Park will also be able to pick up a “Pledge and Plant” postcard that is crammed with wildflower seeds. They can simply tick off the pledges as they go and then plant the postcard in the ground and watch the flowers grow!
Among the highlights of the ReNature festival will be a guided walk at Waterhall, a former golf course near Brighton where rare chalk grassland is being restored for wildlife, as well as activities for young people to get involved in conservation tasks and a butterfly walk with top expert Neil Hulme. To see the full programme of events and online activities visit www.southdowns.gov.uk/renature-festival-2023/
Jan added: “There’s something for all ages and interests and we hope the festival inspires people to take action for nature.”
The ReNature initiative is being led by the National Park Authority in partnership with the South Downs National Park Trust, the official charity for the National Park. Significant funding has been generated through donations and grants from the public and private sector, as well as National Lottery funding.
The National Park Authority held a “Call for Nature Sites” in 2021 and dozens of landowners came forward with possible sites for new habitat creation. Many are now being progressed for habitat creation over the next few years, including farms, quarries, school grounds, road verges and even golf courses.