Enhancing Ecological Networks in the West Weald

Authors and Affiliations: 

Petra Billings PhD, MCIEEM, Landscape Projects Officer, Sussex Wildlife Trust


The West Weald Landscape Project is a partnership project led by Sussex Wildlife Trust which works to conserve and enhance the natural environment across an area of 240 km2 of West Sussex and Surrey.  The project area lies within the Low Weald Character Area, and is characterised by broad, low lying and gently undulating clay vales underlying a small-scale intimate landscape of small woodlands, fields and hedgerows.  This is one of the most wooded landscapes in Britain.

The project focuses on four core forest areas, which it aims to buffer, extend and connect, promoting ecological connectivity and landscape permeability across the wider countryside.  The core forest areas are all important legally designated wildlife sites: Ebernoe Common, The Mens, Chiddingfold Forest and the Greensand Woods.  Work with farmers and landowners is a central part of the project.  We offer a free, targeted and proactive service to advise landowners on integrating appropriate conservation management options with existing land management practices.  We also provide guidance and support to help them enter agri-environmental schemes.  Advice to landowners is underpinned by a comprehensive programme of survey and monitoring which creates a baseline from which we can monitor landscape connectivity.

This landscape-scale approach supports conservation at a species level too.  There is a particular focus on enhancements for rare species such as the barbastelle bat which uses wooded river corridors and hedgerows as flightlines between its woodland roosts and floodplain feeding grounds (Howorth & Greenaway, 2009).  In this case, species research has enabled us to effectively target our advice to landowners along the flightlines.

The project is now in its fifth year of funding. We have advised more than 100 landowners, helping 19 woodland owners enter the English Woodland Grant Scheme and  30 farmers enter agri-environment agreements, under which they are paid for environmental management on their land.  Habitat creation and restoration works have been carried out on 40 sites and include planting more than 5000 m of hedgerows, 10 traditional orchards and 6 ha of native woodland, prioritising enhancement opportunities around the core forest areas.  Six landowner workshops have been held on a range of topics from Tree Health to Hedgerow Management.  Habitat condition surveys have been carried out on lowland meadows, woodlands, ponds, hedgerows and traditional orchards.  Valuable lessons have been learned on effective mechanisms for engaging and communicating with landowners, on tools for identifying priority areas of land to focus on and on the importance of working in partnership.


Howorth R. & Greenaway F. (2009)  Barbastelle bats as a focal species for ecological networks and environmental quality in a landscape conservation framework.  Pub. IALE Proceedings 2009