Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere
The Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere was inscribed by UNESCO MAB in 2014 as the first completely new site in the UK since the 1970s, the first ever such site in SE England and one of only a small number worldwide to include a major urban area.
Our Biosphere area is the block of land and sea of the South Downs National Park and English Channel coast located between the River Adur at Shoreham in the west and the River Ouse at Newhaven in the east, covering an area just larger than the nearby Isle of Wight.
Internationally important wildlife habitats present include chalk grassland, vegetated shingle beaches, and undersea chalk reefs, as well as the National Elm Collection of trees being found in Brighton & Hove.
What goes on there?
More than a third of a million people (population of 371,500 in 2011) live within the biosphere area, and the area receives around 12 million visitors each year. The local economy is worth c. £7 billion, and includes important service industries including tourism, as well as a thriving digital sector plus local government bodies. The rural, urban and coastal/marine areas that make up the local environment are critical to the area’s sustainable economic development, and sustain many of the daily needs of the people that live here through the “ecosystem services” that they provide. These services range from clean water to local food, amelioration of waste products, fresh air, and access to open space for relaxation and inspiration. The community and voluntary sector is very diverse and active here, including hosting a year-round calendar of events and engaging people in a broad range of environmental activities.
Most of the landscape is farmed though a mixture of arable and pastoral agriculture, whilst the urban areas include important networks of public green spaces, and the marine environment is fished mainly by local inshore small boats. There are a variety of important and rare wildlife habitats locally, from chalk grassland on the downs to wetlands in the river valleys and estuaries, and from the rich tapestry of urban greenspace to the vegetated shingle beaches and chalk cliffs and reefs of the coast. These habitats support more than 200 species that are on international conservation lists and more than 300 that are national biodiversity conservation priorities, and more than one thousand locally rare species. The connections of ‘green networks’ for wildlife and people between town, country and coast are significant. National Park downland extends as fingers into the urban settlements and in places right down to the coast with its public beaches and accessible routes. The downland connects with a network of green spaces and corridors that helps to knit this ‘green infrastructure’ together. The three environments of countryside, coast and towns are closely entwined with each other though both natural interactions and peoples’ use of them.
What makes it unique?
The area boasts a number of notable natural assets, including:
Where is it?
The Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere is centred on the South Downs chalk block between the River Adur at Shoreham in the west and the River Ouse at Newhaven in the east, a natural geographic unit in both ecological and cultural terms. Three-quarters of the area is on land and one-quarter is the sea.
Location: The Biosphere is based upon the Brighton chalk block between Shoreham and Newhaven on the English Channel coast, with the city of Brighton & Hove at its heart.
Ecosystems: Temperate broadleaf forests or woodlands including agricultural grasslands, plus a coastal/marine component
Terrain and habitats: The chalk downland hills descend to chalk cliffs and reefs in the east, with a coastal plain and shingle beaches to the west. The principal land habitats are chalk grassland, lowland farmland, deciduous woodland and scrub, freshwater wetlands, and urban green spaces in built-up areas.
Vegetation: Chalk grassland is one of the most diverse botanical habitats in the UK, with up to 40 species found in a square metre of turf. Coastal cliff-top grassland can be almost as diverse in nature. Woodland and scrub tends to be dominated by ash and hawthorn/blackthorn respectively, with some ancient woodlands where oak is most abundant. A small, area of saltmarsh on the Adur estuary is notable for containing unusually little cord-grass.
Total: 38,921 ha - 389 square kilometres or 150 square miles
Some particular species of conservation interest are named below, according to the main ecosystems’ communities in which they typically occur.
1. Lowland chalk grassland: Orchids (various species including Burnt Orchis ustulata, Musk Herminium monorchis, and Early Spider Ophrys sphegodes), Wart-biter Cricket Decticus verrucivorus, Small Blue Cupido minimus and Adonis Blue Lysandra bellargus butterflies, Adder Vipera berus
2. Farmland: Birds – Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra subsp. calandra, Grey Partridge Perdix perdix, Skylark Alauda arvensis subsp. arvensis, Yellowhammer Emberiza citronella, Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, Linnet Carduelis cannabina; Brown-banded Carder Bee Bombus humilis
3. Deciduous woodland and scrub: Bats (all species), Hazel Dormouse Muscardinus avellanarius
4. Freshwater wetland: Great Crested Newt Triturus cristatus, Great Silver Diving Beetle Hydrophilus piceus
5. Urban areas: English Elm tree (varieties) Ulmus procera, Starling Sturnus vulgaris subsp. vulgaris
6. Coastal/Marine zones (especially chalk features): Toadflax Brocade moth Calophasia lunula, Short-snouted and Long-snouted seahorses Hippocampus hippocampus and H. guttulatus, European Eels Anguilla Anguilla
Designated as a UNESCO biosphere reserve in 2014.
Protection Classifications in the Biosphere Reserve (all zones)
Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)
Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
National Nature Reserve (NNR)
National Park (NP)
Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ)
Local Wildlife & Geological Sites (LWS/LGS – non-statutory)
For more information visit the website for the Brighton & Lewes Downs Biosphere