South Downs get protected status

The South Downs, the 627 square-miles of undulating chalkland that spreads across Sussex and Hampshire, were designated Britain's newest national park yesterday – more than 60 years after the area was first recommended for protection.

The announcement by the Environment Secretary, Hilary Benn, following a 19-month public inquiry and years of tortuous legal wrangling, was greeted with elation by conservationists who had long argued for the protections and co-ordinated landscape management that national park status confers on the expanse of countryside between Eastbourne and Winchester.

The area was previously designated an area of outstanding natural beauty. The designation of what Rudyard Kipling referred to as "our blunt, bow-headed, whale-backed Downs" preserves an expanse of countryside that ranges from the chalk uplands shaped by centuries of sheep grazing to river valleys and spectacular cliffs.

A new national park authority, which will cover an area that is home to 120,000 people, will be set up next year and will assume full control by 2011 after further consultations about additional areas to be included within the boundary.

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