Parks and open spaces manager Martin Jenks explains: "It has an incredible range of landscape. It is where the high weald meets the sea. There is ancient woodlands, with bluebells and wild garlic, and coastal heathland. Parts of the site have been designated as an Area of Special Scientific Interest and other parts as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
It has ancient Iron Age forts and a variety of rare birds and insects. It is unique."
Hastings, on the Sussex coast, is heavily dependent on visitors. The park has to ensure that people can enjoy the site without destroying the fragile parts of the habitat.
One of the main priorities is to ensure that visitors keep to the more robust areas on top of the sandstone cliffs. Jenks says: "We want to steer people away from the more sensitive areas. We have put in a picnic area, car park and visitor centre. We’ve spent a lot of money on facilities such as way markings and signposts. And there are accessible toilets, all maintained to a high standard."
The council has created an area where people can have their own barbecues and there is some short grass so that people can play football or softball. And there has been heavy investment in a series of coastal paths.
More adventurous types can explore the steep-sided wooded valleys or look out for birds such as black redstarts or Dartford warblers. "We get a lot of people visiting regionally, coming from several miles away, because it is so beautiful," says Jenks. Park management is proud of the fact that the site is the home for rare plantain weevils and for one of
Britain’s few colonies of sickle-bearing bush crickets. These are an indication of the diverse habitats that the park contains.
As part of the conservation effort, the area is being used for sustainable farming. Because the land cannot be fertilised, it is suitable only for the more hardy breeds. "We use grazing to manage the heathland," says Jenks. "We issue licences to farmers with Highland cattle or Sussex cattle." The cattle keep down the grass and trample the bracken. The park also allows a small number of Exmoor ponies to graze. The animals attract visitors and control growth on the site in a sustainable way.
There is an active friends group and the park works with local land-based colleges, hosting courses in countryside management. The courses are run from renovated farm buildings on the site.
The park hopes to expand the visitor centre and create a large indoor classroom. The park is run through a management forum and has secured the backing of the entire community. "We’ve got very wide political support from the local council," says Jenks. "People recognise that it’s a special place and that it does contribute to the appeal of the town."
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