THE South Downs National Park Authority is almost halfway to its target to renature a large amount of land.

Three years ago, in 2021, the SDNPA set a goal of transforming 13,000 hectares – or more than 20,000 football pitches – into habitat for wildlife by 2030.

The authority has announced that a total of 6,082 hectares – an area bigger than Worthing or Portsmouth – has now been created to help nature thrive.

The work has included planting almost 50,000 trees, adding more than 100 hectares of wildflowers, planting hedges, restoring ponds, and improving rare habitats such as chalk grassland and lowland heath.

Some of the land, including on farms and large estates in the national park, has also been formally secured for nature through planning agreements for biodiversity net gain.

Young kestrels in the South Downs National ParkYoung kestrels in the South Downs National Park (Image: Carl Gough)

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The park authority is working on more than 350 different projects with its partners around nature recovery, including new wildflower meadows, hedgerows, wetlands, heathlands, woodlands and chalk grasslands.

This news comes as the SDNPA launches its annual ReNature Festival, giving people the chance to learn about wildlife on their doorstep and how we can all help it.

Running from Saturday, July 20 to Sunday, July 28, the festival will feature a range of activities including guided walks and talks. The week will culminate in a free family-friendly celebration at One Garden Brighton on July 27.

The theme of this year’s festival will be the four “b’s” – bees, butterflies, birds and bats – which all appear throughout the park.

Applications for ReNature Grants also open this month, where community groups, charities, schools, businesses and parish councils can apply for funding to give nature a helping hand.

Tim Slaney, chief executive (interim) of the National Park, said: “It’s wonderful to be reaching the halfway point in this initiative and absolutely none of it would have been possible without the support of local communities, landowners, farmers, businesses, and volunteers.

Tim SlaneyTim Slaney (Image: South Downs National Park)

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“With almost 1,500 native species of plants and animals in the UK now threatened with extinction, nature needs us now more than ever. We want nature to thrive everywhere for everyone, not only for biodiversity bouncing back but also people’s health and wellbeing. National Parks can and should be the nation’s nature recovery hubs and we’ve proved that we can do it and do it well.

“We’re excited about what we can achieve for the rest of this decade and we’re looking forward to looking in more detail at the ecological impact of the work we’ve been doing, including increasing our monitoring.

“Ultimately, we want nature everywhere for everyone and our ReNature Festival offers a wonderful opportunity for people to connect with the wildlife all around us.”

For more information, visit the South Downs National Park Authority website.