The swathe of countryside above the White Cliffs of Dover could be sold to developers if the National Trust cannot raise £1 million in three weeks to buy one of Britain’s most important landscapes. The Trust currently manages the threatened five miles of the chalk cliffs and in 2012 bought a mile long section to protect the area for the nation. Recently it learned that the landowner is planning to sell off the managed area, prompting fears that without intervention the one hundred and seventy three acre expanse of rolling chalk cliff tops could be altered forever by developers.
Now the Trust has launched an urgent appeal claiming it would be ‘devastating’ if it lost the chance to protect the site. The unspoiled cliffs are planted firmly into the nation’s consciousness as the gateway to Britain, and played a crucial part in the country’s military history, overlooking the English Channel towards France. The cliff tops, which have inspired artists and writers for centuries, are still home to slit trenches and an important battery and range-finding station from the Second World War.
The bid is being supported by Dame Vera Lynn, who’s 1942 war ballad The White Cliffs of Dover secured her reputation as the Forces Sweetheart. “Those iconic white cliffs mean a great deal to so many people,” she said. “They were often the first sight of home for our brave boys as they returned from war, and they continue to represent important British ideals such as hope and resilience even in the most difficult of times. It is vital that we do all that we can to preserve this important historical site, as well as the Cross Channel battery, for posterity, so that the memory of the past is never forgotten by future generations.” In March Dame Vera Lynn’s image was projected onto the cliff face.
The White Cliffs are a haven for nature and wildlife with more than forty species of flowers and grasses every square yard, including the Early Spider Orchid and Viper’s Bugloss. The chalk-lands provide a crucial habitat for butterflies such as the Adonis Blue and Marbled White, and birds including the peregrine falcon and the skylark.
If successful The National Trust will continue to restore the downland habitat. It is believed that the land purchase will cost around £2.5 million and the Trust is using money from it’s Neptune coastal fund towards the cost of the purchase, but it needs to raise a further £1 million by September 22nd to secure the land, which is owned by a local farmer.
Should the Trust’s bid become successful, plans are in place to restore the chalk grasslands, make the military structures watertight, and create new access routes for visitors. Historically, the short downland turf on top of the cliffs was created by allowing animals to graze. However, modern farming techniques including the use of fertilizers, herbicides and even tractors, can easily destroy it and the National Trust has been using Exmoor ponies to graze the land that it owns to restore the traditional landscape.
Virginia Portman, General Manager at the property says: “There is something very special about the White Cliffs and for many people the site represents part of our cultural heritage. This unique coastal habitat is teeming with wildlife and being adjacent to land already in our care will provide better management options for the area. The site should be open for the whole nation to enjoy. It would be devastating if we lost the opportunity to protect it forever. A successful appeal will not only allow us to secure the land but also educate and inspire future generations.”
Donations that come in after 22 September, or after the appeal has reached £1 million, will support ongoing work to protect this and other precious coastal landscapes across the UK.
Money can be donated to the appeal online here.
This acquisition is in keeping with the original aims and objectives of the Trust way back in the days of Octavia Hill – being a custodian of our treasured landscape. It is a safe bet that the purchase will go ahead since the Trust have considerable reserves from which to underwrite the purchase, with available funds now exceeding £48 million pounds.
Thanks to Sarah Knapton for the details.