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First Steps

Chalk cliffs at Beachy Head

The South Downs encompasses a sweep of chalk downland approximately 160km in extent running from Eastbourne in East Sussex to Winchester in Hampshire. The total area covered by the South Downs is 983 sq km and the whole area was designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) by the Countryside Commission on June 22 1965.
The Countryside Commission also designated the white chalk cliffs between Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters and Seaford Head as the first ever stretch of Heritage Coastline - a stretch of coastline which is of particular natural beauty or importance and is managed to preserve this largely undeveloped beauty.

In 1929 Eastbourne Borough Council purchased 4000 acres of the South Downs for a total of 91,291 - 1s - 7d. Part of the deal was that the Council, or Corporation as it was then known, would 'secure the public the free and open use of the Downs in perpetuity.' The Council remains committed to that promise and more than 1,200 acres are designated 'Open Downland' - free, open access land for the public to enjoy, whilst the rest is let to tenant farms.

The 4000 acres of land purchased by the Council - the Eastbourne Downland - is a triangular shaped landholding at the easternmost end of the South Downs. Its boundaries are marked by the Eastern Escarpment, the end of the Downs where the chalk hills meet Eastbourne, the Northern Escarpment, facing the Weald of Sussex, Willingdon Hill and East Dean in the West and the Southern Escarpment, which has been eroded by the seas to forms the famous white cliffs.

The Eastbourne Downland is visited by a million people every year, making it one of the country's most popular natural beauty spots. It offers fine views out to sea and inland, over the ridges and dry valleys, and is a rich source of wildlife. In September 1999 the Minister for Environment, Transport and the Regions asked the Countryside Agency to consider awarding the South Downs National Park status.

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