More than 100 people turned out for a protest march on Whitehawk Hill on Sunday to save one of Brighton’s oldest public commons (December 2).
A local nature reserve since 1997, with public land rights going back as far as the 11th century, this ancient green space is now under threat of development, campaigners say.
Brighton and Hove City Council and Hyde Housing Group hope to build 217 affordable homes in five high-rise blocks on the conservation area.
Amanda Bishop, petitioner for Save Whitehawk Hill, said: “All these people in the flats around here, this is their garden.”
Residents use the public right-of-way to walk their dogs as far as The Race Ground, a recreational space preserved by deed in 1822 for the public to use ‘for ever thereafter’.
Eileen McNamara, a resident of Swallow Court overlooking the common, said: “Whitehawk people have never complained – we get all the dirt thrown at us.
“When I can’t sleep, I stand on the balcony with a cup of tea and watch the foxes, the badgers, I don’t want to lose all that.”
In 2012, Brighton and Hove City Council held a public consultation on the future of Whitehawk Hill Local Nature Reserve.
Of the 300 responses, 86 per cent were in favour of the council’s priorities for the conservation of what the council then called ‘a vital green lung within the city’.
Protesters at the march on Sunday, including children and dogs, followed the commons’ boundary from Four Parishes Stone at the junction of Bear Road to Tenantry Down Road.
They passed through Whitehawk Camp, a Neolithic enclosure of national importance, and the first Scheduled Ancient Monument in Sussex.
Mrs Bishop said: “It was wonderful to see children on the march, it’s their land, we have to show them what we’re fighting for.”
Carrying sticks made of willow and birch, the protesters ‘beat the bounds’, an ancient custom used by commoners to defend their rights to public land from landowners.
Dave Bangs, environmentalist and author of A Freedom to Roam Guide to the Brighton Downs, said: “Whitehawk Hill is more precious than the Brighton Pavilion because of its public value, its ancient history.”