Familiar faces at South Downs National Park

Familiar faces will still be seen in the management of the Midhurst and Petworth countryside when a new regime takes over at the top.

Bruce Middleton, northern area manager for the South Downs Joint Committee, and his small team, have successfully retained their posts in the changeover to the South Downs National Park Authority, which comes into effect on April 1.

The only difference in their roles is that they will have a bigger area to cover.

Bruce’s experience and depth of knowledge have been widely valued, not only by professionals in the field but by groups and individuals who have sought his help during his long period with, first, the Sussex Downs Conservation Board, and latterly the Joint Committee.

He told the Observer: “My job with the park authority will be area manager for Chichester district.

“I cover three-quarters of it now but I am going to gain quite a few more downland parishes – places like Compton, Marden, West and East Dean, Singleton, Lavant and Boxgrove.

“Nearly all of Ebernoe will be included and nearly all of Northchapel, a tiny bit of Plaistow and most of Petworth, which we had only a third of in the past.

“I am going to be losing a tiny sliver of Pulborough because that is not in Chichester district.”

His district will cover 36 complete parishes and 13 part-parishes, compared with the total of 36 in his brief with the South Downs Joint Committee.

Remaining with Bruce is his team consisting of heath officer Dan Cornell and rangers Graham West and Angela Shepherd.

Angela will continue as co-ordinator of Pathwatch, which works with parishes, landowners and the police to counter illegal vehicle use of paths.

Bruce said key to the team’s work within the national park authority would be liaising with the park’s communities.

“We are also going to be talking with farmers and landowners, working to achieve a balance between food production and wildlife interests,” he explained.

Many of their previous commitments will continue – such as helping to organise the bi-annual Weed and Wildflower Festival at Bignor, and assisting the group at Fernhurst with its preservation of the old ironworks.

“We are still planning to do a reptile safari and that sort of thing,” Bruce added.

“And we hope to be able to give talks to groups, as and when we get invited.”

The only significant responsibilities the team will not be taking with them are the maintenance of the wildlife-rich Burton Pond near Duncton and of public rights of way.

Controversially, particularly in respect of the latter, West Sussex County Council is taking them back.