Writer and campaigner Bill Bryson believes that failure to include the Western Weald in the proposed South Downs National Park would be a ‘national tragedy’, leading to the loss of one of the last remaining areas of unspoilt English countryside in the South-East.
The unique historic landscape, which has survived intact for 1,000 years, was included in the original plans for the national park, drawn up 60 years ago. However, planning inspectors have argued that the Western Weald is a different geological make-up to the chalk cliffs of the South Downs, and that it is too heavily populated to warrant national park status.
The planning inspectors have recommended reducing the size of the national park by almost a quarter, excluding the Western Weald, the town of Lewes and the village of Ditchling.
Bill Bryson, who is president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, has presented the Government with a postcard representing protestors’ demand that the boundaries not be reduced. Among the 18,500 signatories are TV presenters David Dimbleby and Ben Fogle, and the protest has the support of Natural England and the World Wildlife Fund.
Mr Bryson says: ‘It is an absolute miracle that this pristine landscape has survived with the development of shopping malls and golf courses and the expansion of London. We have to do everything we can to preserve it.’
The Western Weald is one of the last remaining sites to have retained field patterns from the early-Medieval period. It is also an area of ecological importance, being home to the rarest bat in Europe, a range of endangered birds and butterflies and ancient woodland.
However, Mr Bryson fears that the proximity of the area to London means that developers could move in ‘within years’ if it is not granted national park status.
The Government is due to make a final decision on the national park boundaries later in the year.