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You don't have to go far to appreciate nature in its glory, Bexhill Observer, Friday 1st September 2023

Article for the Bexhill Observer, Friday 1st September 2023 by Cllr Gareth Delany, Pebsham and St Michaels (RDC) Ward.

“Hugh Dalton, Labour’s first post-war chancellor of the exchequer, organised a trip for Labour MPs along the yet-to-be-designated Pennine Way, which he subsequently officially opened. As the late Barbara Castle MP, remembered, “We walked that great route and stayed the night in pubs – it was marvellous – and then on Cross Fell (Cumbria) Hugh – a great man, very committed – stuck this stick in the ground, put his red handkerchief around it, and he bellowed: ‘We will not allow a few rich men to bar our way’.”

Hugh Dalton, like Barbara Castle, was an activist in the Ramblers Association and committed to opening up our countryside to the masses. By 1945, opening up rural Britain was priority for the new Labour government, leading to the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. It not only created the first national parks in the Peak District, Lakeland and Snowdonia, followed by eight others but also underpinned 140,000 miles of footpaths in England and Wales which became public rights of way.

Why do I mention this? With over 30 miles of those footpaths, the Combe Valley Countryside Park occupies over half of my Pebsham and St Michaels Ward. You don’t have to go far to experience and appreciate nature in all its glory. With rolling hills, flower-filled meadows, wonderous woodlands, wetlands and coastal landscapes this park has it all.

Originally called the Pebsham Countryside Park, it was first considered in 1993 and centred on the old Pebsham landfill site. It was identified as an important ‘green gap’ and could provide opportunities for the people of Bexhill, Hastings and St Leonards to gain access to the countryside. In 2012 the Park was formally renamed the Combe Valley Countryside Park, better reflect the enlarged scope of the Park. In 2015 Groundwork South were commissioned to manage the Park as a Community Interest Company in collaboration with local authorities and stakeholders.

The Park has two Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in the Combe Haven valley and Filsham reed beds. The central valley floods in winter, encouraging waterfowl, with many ducks, geese, herons and egrets to be seen. Dragonflies and other insects abound in the summer, and many different aquatic and wetland plants thrive. Kestrels and buzzards can often be seen hunting in the valley. The Park also has a 2-mile stretch of coastline and provides opportunities for active recreation, walking, running and cycling.

The Friends of Combe Valley run regular volunteer sessions. Activities include tree planting, path clearing and cutting back brambles. They also organise volunteer Wardens who patrol the park providing information, maps to visitors and help reassure visitors if they have come across damage or other problems. It’s a huge area to manage and more volunteers are needed.

If you would like to know more, there is a special Open Day on Saturday 16th September, 10am to 1pm, at the Discovery Centre, where you can find out more about the park and how you can get involved. It would be great to see you”.

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