Natural England - 121 Low Weald

121 Low Weald

Low Weald full profile


The Low Weald National Character Area (NCA) is a broad, low-lying clay vale which largely wraps around the northern, western and southern edges of the High Weald. It is predominantly agricultural, supporting mainly pastoral farming owing to heavy clay soils, with horticulture and some arable on lighter soils in the east, and has many densely wooded areas with a high proportion of ancient woodland. Around 9 per cent of it falls within the adjacent designated landscapes of the Surrey Hills, Kent Downs and High Weald Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the South Downs National Park. Around 23 per cent of the area is identified as greenbelt land.

It is important for biodiversity, being rated among the most important NCAs for richness of bat species, bullfinch and lesser-spotted woodpecker, and several plants, including spiked rampion, plus a variety of rare lichens. It also supports rare invertebrates, notably woodland butterflies. Ebernoe Common and The Mens are Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and 5 ha of the Lewes Downs SAC also extend into the area. There are 44 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Ebernoe Common is also a National Nature Reserve, along with Ham Street Woods. The NCA is identified as a potential Forest District so opportunities exist to achieve huge benefits by connecting existing woodlands.

The area has many sites that are critical for the understanding of complex Wealden geology, including 11 geological SSSI. There are also important historical sites, many associated with the Wealden iron industry, and nearly 900 ha of Registered Parks and Gardens, with many more, smaller designed landscapes.

The area is generally wet and woody. It is dissected by flood plains and its impermeable clay soil and low-lying nature make many areas prone to localised flooding. Ponds are common, often a legacy of iron and brick-making industries. Gill woodland is a particular feature and a valuable habitat, scarce elsewhere in the south-east of England.

Despite its proximity to London and continuing pressure for development, the Low Weald remains essentially rural in character with small-scale villages nestled in woodland and many traditional farm buildings, including oast houses, which are typical in the east.

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