Students help clear grassland on Downs

Clearing woodland, which has a devastating effect on the delicate chalk grassland plants
Clearing woodland, which has a devastating effect on the delicate chalk grassland plants

STUDENTS have been learning about conservation and doing some hands-on work to help preserve the South Downs.

All those in years seven and eight at Steyning Grammar School had the opportunity to spend a day on Steyning Coombe, which is part of the Steyning Downland Scheme.

The work, which the school has been involved with for the last six years, is designed to extend the area of chalk grassland for the benefit of wildlife and the community.

Christine Humphreys, the school’s outdoor pursuits co-ordinator, said: “During the course of the day, the students learn about the area and the importance of the work they undertake, as well as lots of new skills, such as how to use the tools safely and risk assess what they are doing in order to keep their peers safe from harm.

“It encourages teamwork and improves social skills. They also gain some simple bushcraft skills.”

The area where the students have been working includes open grassland, a watercourse, ponds and mixed woodland, known locally as the Horseshoe, and the Rifle Range.

Armed with bows, saws and loppers, the students helped to clear the area of scrub and ash trees.

Assistant head teacher Jo Clear said: “The students have thoroughly enjoyed their conservation work on the Downs, and the opportunity has allowed them to build teamwork and decision making skills.

“It is great that the students can make such a positive difference to their environment.”

South Downs National Park and Steyning Downland Scheme rangers used chainsaws to cut the stumps to ground level and treat them to prevent re-growth.

A large group of students from the school’s boarding house, mainly the Duke of Edinburgh Award volunteers, also regularly helps to burn off the scrub and cut the large tree trunks into manageable pieces, ready to be moved.

The work aims to combat the effects of secondary woodland, which have been devastating for the delicate chalk grassland plants. These can quickly become shaded out by tall ash trees that dominate the area.

Over the past 60 years, the rich variety of flora and fauna has been dramatically reduced on this part of the Downs, due to the invasion of scrub, which then developed into thickly-wooded slopes.