Britain is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world. Healthy ecosystems provide food and help to stabilise our climate. But in built-up areas like Sussex, the entire landscape has been profoundly altered by human activity. Traditional conservation efforts are not enough to halt this catastrophic loss of biodiversity. We need to do better, think bigger and join the dots.
Weald to Waves is offering a model for connectivity against the odds, establishing a 100-mile corridor connecting 20,000+ hectares of habitats from historic High Weald forests through Knepp Wildland and the South Downs National Park, along restored rivers to revived seas. As a land manager-led project integrating natural capital, public engagement, and rural economies, it is offering a blueprint for nature recovery across built-up landscapes.
How Weald to Waves was born
The Sussex landscape was once covered by sprawling woodland, heathland, and wetlands, with a mosaic of farmland, pastures, and small settlements. Over the past 300 years, Sussex has seen a surge of industrialisation; urbanization and intensive agriculture that has carved up the landscape. Numerous species, including hedgehogs, skylarks, and many butterflies, have declined. Some have been lost entirely.
Sussex has experienced several climate and nature shocks in recent years, including heavy rainfall leading to flooding and landslides, heatwaves, droughts, and storm surges. These extreme weather events have caused damage to property, infrastructure, and wildlife habitats. There is a growing understanding of the interconnectedness between human activities and the natural world. But to join the dots, we need a shared mission, a powerful story and some pioneers.
Meet James Baird, who farms one of the last undeveloped stretches of coastline in Sussex at the Climping Gap.
While travelling in Borneo he witnessed the rapidly disappearing rainforest, felled to make way for palm oil plantations. The resulting ordered ranks of palm trees provide very little habitat for any species, in comparison to the spectacular array of diversity supported by rainforests.
Returning to the UK he recognised the same patterns of habitat loss affecting our own ecosystems, and decided to focus on nature recovery on his own farm.
It was after reading Isabella Tree's book, Wilding, about the Knepp rewilding project, that Baird realised the opportunity to connect the projects, and the corridor started to develop.
"We were horrified at the rainforests being replaced with oil palm plantations. I came home angry. That’s when the penny dropped..."
“For me it was an awakening that our own food production systems here have got a lot to answer for. Who are we to tell the Indonesians and Malaysians to manage their habitats when ours are in such a degraded state?” - James Baird
Bigger, better and more joined-up
Agricultural landscapes are typically very homogenous. Large areas containing a small number of species are not only poor habitat for most species, but they also form impenetrable barriers which isolate species populations and cause local extinctions.
In 2010, the UK Government commissioned the "Making Space for Nature” report, which outlined the importance of improving connectivity between natural spaces being crucial for the survival of many species.
“There is compelling evidence that England’s collection of wildlife sites are generally too small and too isolated, leading to declines in many of England’s characteristic species”
With these challenges in mind, the Weald to Waves project was born. The first seven landowners met and signed a memorandum of understanding in 2022. These original landowners formed the first core areas for nature recovery. The corridor started to grow, joining up these landowners with other nature recovery partnerships and stakeholders.
By considering Biodiversity Opportunity Areas, Priority Habitats, Nature Reserves and other important areas for nature that lie between these core areas, the Weald to Waves corridor was mapped. The corridor is growing all the time as people and organisations get involved - currently we have 16% of the corridor pledged and over 350 gardens and greenspaces signed-up.
The shared ambition of the partnership's founding stakeholders, to support nature recovery through improving habitat quality and connectivity, resulted in a corridor stretching 100 miles, from the Ashdown Forest in the High Weald, following the Arun, Adur and Ouse rivers to the sea at Climping, Shoreham and Newhaven.
Weald to Waves is working through partnerships to achieve the following goals.
To create a nationally significant wildlife corridor of 100 miles and over 20,000 hectares as a ribbon of largely contiguous natural habitat.
To promote nature as a provider of vital ecosystem services; backed by sustainable farming and a reduction of the pollutants that are compromising our landscape and flowing into our waterways and marine environment.
To engage people and communities across Sussex by creating new opportunities to understand, enjoy and protect nature so that communities can thrive alongside nature.
Through these goals, Weald to Waves is working to support nature recovery on a landscape scale to benefit both humans and wildlife.
What makes Weald to Waves unique?
At a time when food and nature are being pitted against one another, Weald to Waves is demonstrating their interconnectivity. With your support, the corridor will weave together science, innovation and community action with a thousand years of agricultural knowledge.