Rare and nature-rich chalk grassland will be restored with a £2.23 million National Lottery grant for the South Downs, the National Trust has said.
A partnership led by the charity to restore the ancient landscape and connect people to it will manage land for nature, offer outdoor therapeutic sessions for those with mental health needs and create jobs and volunteering opportunities.
Some 18 schemes, including returning 60 hectares (150 acres) of golf course to downland and reintroducing grazing to help manage 40 sites, will go ahead over the next four years.
In total, 815 hectares (2,000 acres) of land will be managed for nature, the National Trust said, while there will be community projects to access green space, and an archaeology project to get people digging for history in gardens and public spaces.
The 10-organisation-strong partnership will work with communities, farmers, landowners and vineyards, and will provide jobs, apprenticeships and training in Brighton and Hove, Eastbourne and Lewes, as well as new skills for around 2,500 volunteers, the National Trust said.
The £2.23 million grant is from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and is being supplemented by partners through funding, fundraising and volunteer time.
Internationally rare chalk grassland is one of the most nature-rich landscapes in the UK, with a wide range of wildflowers, orchids and butterflies.
But the extent of the habitat has declined by four-fifths in recent decades, in part due to intensive agriculture and the loss of traditional grazing which has left remaining sites small and isolated and their wildlife threatened.
Richard Henderson, assistant director at the National Trust and chair of the partnership, said: “The need to connect nature, people and heritage has never felt more important or relevant, and the commitment from our partners to achieve this is truly wonderful.
“The project has an amazing cross-section of activities that will protect and restore the South Downs landscape for people to enjoy, for health and well-being, for nature’s recovery and climate resilience into the future.”
Stuart McLeod, director for London and South at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “Investing in projects that support nature is a key priority for us and now, thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, a wider range of people will be able to enjoy this area so rich in biodiversity, while benefiting from both a mental health and well-being perspective.”
The projects will deliver the Changing Chalk programme over three areas, including restoring wildlife and helping farmers manage the chalk grassland, improving well-being through connecting people up to the landscape, and efforts to protect and engage people in local heritage.