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Wilder Horsham District

Children walking through the meadow at Chesworth Farm

Children at Chesworth Farm, © Miles Davies, Sussex Wildlife Trust

What is Wilder Horsham District?

Wilder Horsham District is a five-year partnership between Sussex Wildlife Trust and Horsham District Council that aims to:

  • help wildlife thrive across the Horsham District
  • create networks of land that are protected and enhanced for wildlife, to allow habitats to expand and for species populations to increase which will ensure that they are resilient to change
  • increase awareness of actions that communities can take to improve their local natural environment and the benefits that wildlife provides
  • maximise the opportunities from protecting and enhancing wildlife to tackling climate change and to reduce the impacts of a changing climate

The Horsham District has a rich natural environment which forms part of its identity and sense of place.

National studies confirm that wildlife has declined significantly over the past 20-30 years. According to a group of national conservation organisations 15% of wildlife species are under threat of extinction. Since the 1970s the populations of 41% of UK species have reduced.

This national picture is reflected in the Horsham District. For example, wildflower meadows which formed part of the landscape character of the area were once a common sight but these are now rare. Individual species, such as the Turtle Dove, could become extinct, as numbers in Sussex are now critical.

Horsham District Council and the Sussex Wildlife Trust have formed a partnership to reverse the decline in species and habitats. This will ensure that the District’s natural environment is protected and enhanced so that it remains an attractive place to live and work.

It will also contribute to tackling and reducing the impacts of climate change. This document sets out what this partnership hopes to achieve.

The Council recognises that the natural world is under increasing threat. Wildlife that was once familiar in the Horsham District is now rare. This new partnership with the Sussex Wildlife Trust aims to reverse this decline.

It builds on the strong relationship that the Council already has with the Trust, to make a real change in how we use our natural heritage and our environment.

Both organisations want to work with local landowners, community groups and organisations to enhance the District’s natural world, so that species and habitats thrive to benefit everyone that lives and works in the area.

Jonathan Chowen, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Leisure and Culture at Horsham

We see Wilder Horsham District as an opportunity to demonstrate how a District Council and a Wildlife Trust can work collaboratively to progress the wildlife agenda at a meaningful district level.

Together we can demonstrate how a Nature Recovery Network can be delivered with local people, communities and organisations all playing their roles. We want to see wildlife thrive throughout the district for residents and for all residents and visitors to enjoy the benefits.

Tor Lawrence, Chief Executive of the Sussex Wildlife Trust


The Horsham District has a high quality and valued landscape. The southern part of the district is within the South Downs National Park and the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty covers the north eastern area. It also has numerous sites that are protected because of their value to wildlife. This ranges from international sites such as the Arun Valley Ramsar site with a significant diversity of species, through to Sites of Special Scientific Interest like St Leonard’s Forest and numerous locally important areas, such as Woods Mill, in Small Dole and Chesworth Farm, near Horsham.

The wider countryside also contains a wide variety of habitats that support numerous different species. The map shows the protected and important habitats found in the Horsham District. One of the main challenges is that habitats (whether they are protected or not) are becoming increasingly fragmented and isolated from each other. This does not allow species to move around, making wildlife less resilient to change; such as changes in land management or the climate.

Why take action?

Nature forms an integral part of the landscape that makes the Horsham District a special place and many people value wildlife for its own sake. These natural assets, such as water, soil and landscape are often called Natural Capital. The value of these is sometimes expressed in financial terms, so the contribution that these assets provide and, therefore, the loss of these assets can be understood alongside economic gains.

The decline of wildlife (a natural asset) provides a critical challenge because nature provides many benefits that are essential to us all. Some of these benefits are:
pollinating plants which give us food

  • filtering pollutants from the air and water
  • creating soil
  • capturing carbon by trees and soil (carbon is one of the main gases contributing to enhanced
    climate change)
  • providing products, such as timber and medicines;
  • reducing flood risk
  • contributing to health and wellbeing from being in natural surroundings and opportunities to exercise, such as walking and cycling
  • giving a sense of place, adding to the cultural heritage of the District

These benefits are all known as Ecosystems Services. Reversing the decline in wildlife ensures that natural assets are retained and that they can continue to provide these benefits.

The Horsham District is under increasing pressure for development, to provide houses for current and future generations. Whilst development is necessary, it needs to ensure that the District retains and enhances its natural environment and the services that this provides. This partnership will, therefore, ensure that the opportunities to enhance wildlife in new developments form part of the overall vision for the District.

For example, it will link into a new approach known as biodiversity net gain. This seeks to ensure that wildlife is enhanced in new development. On site where this is not possible, developers would pay for the enhancement of other sites that would form part of the Nature Recovery Network.

The partnership will be at the forefront of this new approach to reversing the decline in wildlife. Government legislation and guidance is emerging on issues such as Nature Recovery Networks. This means that Wilder Horsham District programme will be well placed to maximise any new funding opportunities.

It will also link to the work of the Sussex Local Nature Partnership which has recently adopted the Sussex Natural Capital Investment Strategy. This document, the result of cross sector collaboration (Local Authorities are currently represented at a county and unitary level) provides guidance and a shared framework for nature’s recovery in Sussex. This seeks to ensure that biodiversity is enhanced within new development sites, where this is not possible.

Wilder Horsham District will be able to draw on current thinking from the Sussex Local Nature Partnership to ensure it is linking biodiversity net gain, Nature Recovery Networks and Local Nature Recovery Strategies appropriately.

Floodplain woodland planting copyright Fran Southgate

Flood plain woodland planting on the upper Adur. Image © Fran Southgate, Sussex Wildlife Trust

What action can be taken?

There have been some successes in protecting and enhancing wildlife, such as the Rewilding project on the Knepp Estate and the restoration of river habitat on the Adur. However, in order to reverse the general decline in habitats and species population new approaches are required. Government policy also has recognised this.

The partnership between the Sussex Wildlife Trust and the Council will draw on some of these new approaches; such as taking a wider landscape approach to enhance wildlife and not restricting actions to specific sites. However, there are certain landscapes and areas of the Horsham District that will be the focus of the work of the partnership. At present these are:

  • Hedgerows in the Low Weald (providing important connectivity between fragmented habitats)
  • Woodland - New planting and allowing natural regeneration are important tools in capturing more carbon and helping wildlife
  • The Adur catchment; improve freshwater and floodplain habitats, water quality and flood resilience through working with natural processes
  • Join up key sites, such as the Knepp Estate with the woodland to the north-east of Horsham town and The Mens in the west of the District, creating the core of a District-wide ecological network
  • Take action to support pollinating insects throughout the District, in both towns and rural areas

Although these are currently the focus of the work, this is likely to change as more information emerges from the work of the Sussex Nature Partnership.

What actions will the partnership take?

There are four headings that will shape the actions of the partnership:

  1. Organisational resilience
  2. Landscape resilience
  3. Community resilience
  4. Legacy

Each of these contribute to the overarching aims of the partnership. The measures of success in the action tables are currently outputs from the programme. Proxy measures will be developed to gauge the success of enhancing nature across the District once more analysis has been completed.

Making a commitment to wildlife and the natural environment has to start at an organisational level. This will make sure that all tiers of decision making are sharing the ambitions of a Wilder Horsham District. Organisational resilience means ensuring that the principles of the programme are embedded throughout the Council.

Horsham District Council has a direct role to play in creating a wilder district, as it owns and manages land in the area. It is already changing the way it manages its parks and countryside sites to increase species and habitats. For example, it owns and manages Chesworth Farm, a 90 acre site, which gives Horsham residents an opportunity to experience the benefits of nature within walking distance of their homes.

The District Council will draw on the expertise of the Sussex Wildlife Trust to make further improvements and enhance the presence of the Trust throughout the District.

The Trust will also work with the council to embed the principles of the Wilder Horsham District programme into all parts of the organisation. This will build organisational resilience to achieve the aims of the partnership. For example, the Trust will run training events for staff and help the council develop policies on biodiversity as part of the review of the Local Plan, as well as reviewing the existing Green Infrastructure Strategy (2014).

Informed Councillors

Objective: Embed the principles of Wilder Horsham District with the council’s decision makers.

Action: An annual wildlife and climate change seminar for Councillors to give an update on the national context and progress of the partnership.

Measure of success: Feedback from Councillors after every event.

Informed staff

Objective: Share the principles of Wilder Horsham District with council staff to embed these in relevant Council policies.

Action:Bespoke internal events, training programme and Continuous Professional Development (CPD) for Council staff on wildlife issues.

Measure of success: Audit of key documents after years 3 and 5. Feedback from staff after every event.

Although the District has wildlife sites and species that are protected, a complementary approach to this form of nature conservation is required to reverse the decline in nature. Protected sites and species are often isolated from each other and habitats are becoming increasingly fragmented.

A landscape approach is required which increases wildlife in all parts of the countryside and also in urban areas. This will build landscape resilience which will ensure that wildlife can move around the landscape and also has the benefit of making nature accessible to more people.

This approach will require changes to land management and actions such as planting trees and hedgerows to link sites that are already important for wildlife. These are known as Nature Recovery Networks. The partnership will, therefore, work with landowners and communities to develop these networks. This work will also link to the Local Plan by highlighting areas where new development can play a part in enhancing these networks.

We will use the best available data sets for the district, from a range of organisations to ensure that clear objectives are put in place for the Horsham District Nature Recovery Network. For example, some areas will prioritise flood resilience or water quality issues but all areas will prioritise the creation of new linkages in the landscape.

Establish and expand a Horsham District wide Nature Recovery Network

Objective: Identify and map the key elements of a District-wide NRN.

Action: Agree an approach between HDC and SWT to identifying the NNR’s; based on emerging national principles and local information.Based on the work of the Sussex Natural Capital Investment Strategy, identify the districts natural key assets and the location of the NRN. Identify important habitats and natural features that should be retained and enhanced in development sites.

Measure of success: Mapped key assets and the Nature Recovery Networks

Objective: Develop and prioritise actions to deliver NRN's across the District.

Action: Create a new Landscape Advisor post to beemployed by SWT.

The Advisor will facilitate and deliver NRN across the Horsham District by working with landowners and managers, and to identify biodiversity offset areas within the NRN to link with potential monies generated by biodiversity net gain.

The Advisor will also take opportunities to link the developing NRN for the Horsham District to existing landscape and catchment initiatives beyond this area, to increase the overall wildlife benefit.

Measure of success: List of appropriate measures to create the NRN. Percentage of landowners/land managers engaged (Target 60% of proposed NRN). 20% increase in the number of Local Wildlife Sites in positive management.

Principles of a Wilder Horsham District embedded into the review of the Horsham Local Plan

Objective: Establish appropriate planning policies that protect and enhance the District’s natural environment, and the delivery of appropriate biodiversity net gain.

Action: The Local Plan Review to incorporate the NRN and Ecosystems Services approach by drawing on national advice and experience from other Local Authorities.Jointly explore how biodiversity net gain can be implemented in the Horsham District and link to the establishment of the NRN. SWT to provide advice on principles that could be incorporated in new developments to enhance wildlife.

Measure of success: Key principles included within Local Plan as relevant to the local context. Detailed mechanism for establishing baseline information and measuring of biodiversity net gain.

All HDC services contribute to, and maximise opportunities for, increasing wildlife

Objective: Ensure that key Council services are delivering landscape resilience.

Action: Redraft the Council’s Green Infrastructure Strategy to incorporate the NRN and new wildlife ambitions for the District.

Jointly establish increased wildlife ambitions for the District and review all Council policies and processes to reflect these.

Explore whether the principles of NaturalCapital could be incorporated into Council decision making.

Measure of success: Updated Green Infrastructure Strategy produced and approved. Key Council documents and processes incorporate principles that increase wildlife.

Incorporate the Council estate into the NRN and the principles of landscape resilience

Objective: Ensure that key Council services are delivering landscape reslience

Action: Redraft the Council’s Green Infrastructure Strategy to incorporate the NRN and new wildlife ambitions for the District.

Jointly establish increased wildlife ambitions for the District and review all Council policies and processes to reflect these.

Explore whether the principles of Natural Capital could be incorporated into Council decision making.

Measure of Success: Updated Green Infrastructure Strategy produced and approved.Key Council documents and processes in corporate principles that increase wildlife.

Incorporate the Council estate into the NRN and the principles of landscape resilience

Aim: Engage with WSCC on the principles of the Wilder Horsham District

Objective: Ensure WSCC services are delivering landscape resilience by taking NRN into account.

Action: Promote the NRN to key County Departments and engage with them when establishing the NRN.

The final part of the overarching actions is to ensure that communities across the Horsham District are part of the solution to reversing the decline in wildlife.

There are many organisations and community groups that are already taking action to improve the natural environment of the District. Organisations such as Parish and Neighbourhood Councils own land and are close to their communities. It is also important to inspire new communities to get involved.

The partnership will provide support and funding for existing and new organisations and communities to enhance wildlife and provide opportunities for more residents to access the natural environment. It is important that everyone is part of the overall vision to reverse the decline in wildlife and have an increased understanding of the critical benefits that habitats and species provide.

Linking communities to their local green spaces and building networks for wildlife.

Active communities

Objective: Engage with parish/neighbourhood councils and community groups through targeted events.

Action: Hold three events for parish/neighbourhood councils and community groups. Provide follow-up advice and support for the councils and groups to take action.

Measure of success: Proportion of communities supported. (Target is for bespoke contact with 60% of parish/neighbourhood councils).

New Neighbourhood Plans incorporate principles developed via Wilder Horsham District.

Collaborative communities

Objective: Establish a collaborative network of community groups who are all engaged with reversing the decline of wildlife and increasing access to the natural environment.

Action: Appoint a Wilder Horsham District Community Officer to provide advice and support to community groups and organisation to develop their own ecological networks and access to funding. Create an online support and resource space for SWT to share experience and best practice with groups/organisations and to allow the groups to network.

Measure of success: Percentage of communities supported. (Target is bespoke contactwith 60% of parish/neighbourhood councils).

Achievements of the programme

Objective: Celebrate the outcomes of the Wilder Horsham District programme.

Action: Hold an event at the end of the programme for all landowner,organisations and groups that have been involved, to celebrate the successes and achievements of Wilder Horsham District.

Measure of success: Level of engagement of communities

It is important that the work that this partnership commences continues beyond five years.

To build a legacy the partnership will maximise opportunities to leverage new funding; such as through the work of the Local Nature Partnership. The foundations that are put in place by embedding the principles of a Wilder Horsham District into the council, as well as the work with landowners, organisations and community groups will ensure that the work to reverse the decline in the wildlife of the district will continue beyond the life of the partnership.

Throughout the five years of delivery look at longer term funding options (including corporate social responsibility, Community Infrastructure Levy and section 106 targeting) to ensure financial viability of investment in the Horsham District Nature Recovery Network going forward.

Wilder Horsham District will be concluded with an inspirational event to share the gains and the lessons learnt with stakeholders with a focus on legacy and future co-operation.

A Wilder Horsham District will raise awareness of the role of SWT and the importance of protecting and enhancing wildlife.