National Character Area 121

Low Weald - Summary and Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity

Summary

The Low Weald National Character Area (NCA) is a broad, low-lying clay vale which largely wraps around the northern, western and southern edges of the High Weald. It is predominantly agricultural, supporting mainly pastoral farming owing to heavy clay soils, with horticulture and some arable on lighter soils in the east, and has many densely wooded areas with a high proportion of ancient woodland. Around 9 per cent of it falls within the adjacent designated landscapes of the Surrey Hills, Kent Downs and High Weald Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the South Downs National Park. Around 23 per cent of the area is identified as greenbelt land.

It is important for biodiversity, being rated among the most important NCAs for richness of bat species, bullfinch and lesser-spotted woodpecker, and several plants, including spiked rampion, plus a variety of rare lichens. It also supports rare invertebrates, notably woodland butterflies. Ebernoe Common and The Mens are Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and 5 ha of the Lewes Downs SAC also extend into the area. There are 44 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Ebernoe Common is also a National Nature Reserve, along with Ham Street Woods. The NCA is identified as a potential Forest District (Preliminary Nature Conservation Objectives for Natural Areas – Woodland and Forestry, Reid, C.M. and Kirby, K.J., English Nature Research Report 239, 1997) so opportunities exist to achieve huge benefits by connecting existing woodlands.

The area has many sites that are critical for the understanding of complex Wealden geology, including 11 geological SSSI. There are also important historical sites, many associated with the Wealden iron industry, and nearly 900 ha of Registered Parks and Gardens, with many more, smaller designed landscapes.

The area is generally wet and woody. It is dissected by flood plains and its impermeable clay soil and low-lying nature make many areas prone to localised flooding. Ponds are common, often a legacy of iron and brick-making industries. Gill woodland is a particular feature and a valuable habitat, scarce elsewhere in the south-east of England.

Despite its proximity to London and continuing pressure for development, the Low Weald remains essentially rural in character with small-scale villages nestled in woodland and many traditional farm buildings, including oast houses, which are typical in the east.

Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity (SEO)

See the Statements of Environmental Opportunity section for more details on the headlines listed below.

SEO 1

Protect, manage and significantly enhance the area’s intricate and characteristic mix of semi-natural ancient woodlands, gill woodland, shaws, small field copses, hedgerows and individual trees to reduce habitat fragmentation and benefit biodiversity, while seeking to improve and encourage access for health and wellbeing and reinforce sense of local identity.

SEO 2

Conserve and enhance the distinctive historical aspects of the Low Weald landscape, including its important geological features and sites of heritage interest, particularly those associated with Wealden iron industry, enabling access, continued research, interpretation, understanding and enjoyment of the extensive and nationally significant resources.

SEO 3

Work at a landscape scale to improve the quality, state and structure of all Wealden rivers, streams and standing waterbodies and their appropriate flood plains, taking account of water quality, water flow and hydraulic connection with the flood plain, while seeking to enhance biodiversity, historic features and recreation opportunities and reinforcing sense of place.

SEO 4

Maintain the sustainable but productive pastoral landscape of the Low Weald, while expanding and connecting semi-natural habitats to benefit biodiversity, regulating soil and water quality by promoting good agricultural practice, and maintaining the extent and quality of unimproved permanent grassland and meadows. Restore degraded neutral grasslands to buffer sites and encourage pollinators and predators for pest regulation.