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South Downs National Park - South Downs (AONB)
|The South Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty|
The South Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) was created in 1965.
The area, commonly referred to as the South Downs, is in fact two AONBs - Sussex Downs AONB and East Hampshire AONB.
They encompass the full rolling sweep of chalk downland in East and West Sussex and stretch from Eastbourne to Winchester in Hampshire.
In the east the Downs meet the sea at the popular beauty spots of Beachy Head and the Seven Sisters, which are managed as Heritage Coast.
The purpose of the AONB is to protect the pastoral, wooded and richly farmed landscapes at the foot of the Downs and extends north-west on to the hilly, wooded sandstones and clays of the Weald.
Within the AONB are many important habitats including lowland heath and chalk grassland and four National Nature Reserves.
Much of the downland has been ploughed for arable farming and only five per cent of the chalk turf survives.
The largest towns within the AONB are Petworth and Midhurst and it attracts large numbers of visitors to its most well-known landmarks at Beachy Head, Devil's Dyke and Ditchling Beacon. The South Downs Way also runs through the AONB.
|Beachy Head is a national landmark and attracts thousands of visitors each year|
The main pressures on the AONB are farming, overdevelopment, growing recreational demand and neglect.
But the major pressure comes from development to meet the growing needs of urban coastal areas like Brighton, Eastbourne and Worthing which are constrained by the sea.
The demand for new housing, out of town retail outlets, increasing traffic, expanding communication masts and the need to manage extra waste is eroding the fringes of the AONB.
In some cases, like the proposed Falmer Stadium, demand to develop land within the AONB could irrevocably undermine the landscape, conservationists say.
|Whiteways countryside site, north of Arundel in West Sussex|
In Sussex, the AONB is managed by the Sussex Downs Conservation Board.
Its main aims are to protect, conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the Sussex Downs AONB; to encourage people's quiet enjoyment of the Downs; and to promote sustainable economic and social development.
The Conservation Board issues practical guidance to farmers, landowners and planners about the best way to retain and enhance the special character of the AONB and stresses that management policies should be "landscape led".
Since 1998 the Sussex Downs Conservation Board has been working jointly with East Hampshire AONB, relevant local authorities and the Countryside Agency to ensure a sustainable future for the Downs.
This vision will be considered by the proposed South Downs National Park Authority which is due to take on the work of the Conservation Board.