Council leader defends municipal farmland from ‘bleak’ criticism

Farmland on the edge of Brighton needs improving because the agricultural landscape is bleak, a resident told councillors.

Alex Mancey-Barratt said that Brighton and Hove City Council-owned farmland lacked natural diversity.

And at a meeting of the council’s Policy and Resources Committee, he urged the council to engage with tenant farmers to improve the land.

Dr Mancey-Barratt said yesterday (Thursday 24 March): “The farmland to the east of Falmer Road and some to the west falls into this category. This agricultural landscape is bleak and lacking in natural diversity.

“Such hedgerows as there are don’t really deserve the name while most field divisions are wire fences.

“The public footpaths crossing fields to the east are stark and unprotected. Trees are absent.”

The council owns 12,862 acres of farmland, of which 70 per cent is let across 16 farm holdings.

Green council leader Phélim Mac Cafferty said that although the downland may appear barren, the chalk grassland contained important biodiverse habitats.

He said that Castle Hill, to the east of Falmer Road and just north of Woodingdean, was a good example. It was a site of special scientific interest (SSSI) and designated a national nature reserve.

Across the eastern side of Brighton, the council’s farmland is home to 574 species – from plants and fungi to reptiles – of which 58 have international conservation designations and 195 national conservation designations.

The estate includes eight statutory protected sites, local wildlife sites, SSSIs, nature reserves, areas of outstanding natural beauty – and much of the land falls within the South Downs National Park.

Councillor Mac Cafferty said: “This part of the estate is representative of Brighton and Hove open downland and does indeed contain some important and biodiverse habitats.

“Some may mistake the downland as barren (but) the East Sussex chalk grassland landscape is rich in biodiversity.”

The view towards Castle Hill

The council is currently carrying out a consultation as it to draws up a plan for the downland estate for the next 100 years.

Councillor Mac Cafferty said that the plan would help the council to work with its tenant farmers to support wildlife through measures such as linking rare habitats through wildlife corridors.

The public consultation will start on the council’s website in the summer.

  1. Tom H Reply

    There are going to be some stark choices to make for many people in the coming years. There is a food crisis happening around us. Wheat, Corn, Sugar prices will likely double in the next year from where they are today. Partly this is down to the conflict in the Ukraine and partly it’s a result of higher energy prices (which impacts the price of farming land and of fertiliser) -neither of these I see resolving soon.

    Rewilding swathes of land to promote bio-diversity, planting hedges in otherwise big open fields, not using chemicals to promote crop yields all have their admirable merits but it is at the cost of total food production for a given average and that means less supply which ultimately means food prices WILL go up.

  2. Alex Barratt Reply

    The hillside areas in question are not productive lands for these crops, have very thin soil and are very dependent on artifical fertilisers and pesticides. These are indeed becoming prohibitively expensive. Many farmers say it is no longer viable to use them. These landscapes were never farmed in this way until the last 70 years, and doing so has caused great damage to the biodiversity of the area and to resources we need (such as water from the aquifer). Alternative ways of farming using more sustainable techniques are a way to allow continued food production locally while protecting the environment we all ultimately depend on. If the council is able to encourage and support farmers to achieve this on land they own, this seems a desirable use of our resources.

  3. Bob Baldwin Reply

    This area off Falmer Road is indeed bleak and poor. I watched as a massive plough churned up the very summit of Bullock hill. There’s no soil left there. Just white chalk. Same as Newmarket hill nearby. A glance at Google-earth will show the white scars where the thin soil has run off.
    Like most of the huge tracts of Downland around Brighton the ancient places have been obliterated by the plough and often poison. Many old tracks are now just narrow alleys just wide enough to squeeze along with angry barbed wire fences each side and miles of sterile monoculture stretching away into the distance. Wildlife up there ? Not much left , alas.
    There are some gems of course but most of is rather depressing.

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