An Eastbourne summer buzzing with hope: a personal perspective

The CEO of the Eastbourne Eco Action Network CIC, Andrew Durling, presents here his personal take on the local eco events of this eventful summer:

This summer has seen some dramatic developments in the Eastbourne Carbon Neutral 2030 campaign. The Eastbourne Eco Action Network CIC collaborated with its partners in the Eastbourne Climate Coalition and with Eastbourne Borough Council to put on a 3-day programme of community-led events in the E-Hive marquee in Princes Park during the first ever E-Festival that ran from July 29th to 31st.

This E-Hive was, in effect, a pop-up Climate Emergency Centre, and hopefully it will be a regular feature of the E-Festival in years to come, as well as contributing towards the establishment of a permanent home for such a centre somewhere in central Eastbourne. I pay tribute to the enormous effort put in by a fantastic group of local volunteers to organise and deliver such a varied programme that certainly created a buzz of excitement. Special thanks go to the High Sheriff of East Sussex, Jane King, for kindly officiating at the formal opening of the E-Hive. The feedback I received about the E-Hive indicated that it was a great success and that it drew in many local people to engage with a wide range of perspectives on the big environmental issues of our time.


A particular highlight of the E-Hive programme for me was the talk by Ben Cross of the British Flowers Rock campaign about the need to grow flowers locally and sustainably for the floristry industry rather than incurring the huge carbon footprint from importing flowers by air from far-flung parts of the world.

Ben Cross of Crosslands Flower Nursery with his crop of British alstroemeria in Sussex Thursday Nov. 04 2021. Picture by Christopher Pledger

Another highlight for me was listening to marine biologist Gonzalo Alvarez from the United Nations Climate and Oceans team, who gave a very detailed and sobering presentation about the current state of climate science research and the climate negotiations based on it. He also talked about the newly established United Nations Ecosystem Restoration and #GenerationRestoration campaign and explained how we can all be part of it.

But the greatest spectacle for me was seeing so many local people participating in, and watching, the Eco Fashion Show put on by Eco Fashion Eastbourne, a real testament to how  clothes and fabrics that are recycled/upcycled/repurposed can be very beautiful and how necessary sustainable fashion is given the huge carbon and water footprint of the fashion industry worldwide.


Earlier in July I had gone to Westminster to represent the Eastbourne Food Partnership (which my colleagues and I in the Eastbourne Eco Action Network work closely with) at a Sustainable Food Places Day of Action and Celebration at Parliament (a recording of some of the day is here). It was a wonderful chance to meet up with representatives from many other local food partnerships around the UK and share learnings and inspiration.

SFP Day of Celebration and Action

It was also a chance for me to meet up with Caroline Ansell, MP for Eastbourne, to discuss in depth some of the local food issues that impact the town and to explore how important it is to create a local food system that is sustainable and resilient enough to ensure food security for all local residents and which can withstand the many damaging impacts of climate change.

SFP Day of Celebration and Action

The Eastbourne Food Partnership is now recruiting for a part-time co-ordinator to scale up its work in developing this urgently needed local food system.


Now the work of the Eastbourne Eco Action Network CIC is currently focussed on collaborating with Eastbourne Borough Council to deliver a Solar and Sustainable Business Summit in October at the Welcome Building.

This gathering is intended to help kickstart a drive to massively scale up the installation of solar and other forms of renewable energy, as well as energy efficiency measures, in Eastbourne, particularly for local businesses, many of which are very exposed to the rising costs of energy, driven mainly by the massive rise in gas prices due primarily to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Eastbourne – one of the sunniest places in the UK – has an especially huge potential for more solar energy installations as there is so much roof space available on large warehouses, retail units, etc, as well as so many large car parks. A particular piece of good news is that Eastbourne DGH has recently submitted plans for a large solar car park on its premises, together with charging points for EVs. This would provide much needed renewable energy for the hospital and help stop the DGH from any longer being the biggest single point source of CO2 in the town.


Winter may be coming, and it may be hard for all of us in many ways, but this summer has given me some hope that the transition to a zero carbon society may be unstoppable, locally as well as globally, and that we’ll all be the better for it, especially if we can move away as quickly as possible from the increasingly expensive fossil fuels we have been overdependent on for far too long.


The Eastbourne Climate Coalition is creating a new buzz in town

The Eastbourne Eco Action Network is collaborating with the Eastbourne Climate Coalition to curate and manage an ambitious programme of community-run events in the E-Hive Marquee in Princes Park during the E-Festival on Eastbourne’s seafront that runs from July 29th to 31st. All the events in the E-Hive Marquee will be free to the public and are all organised by volunteers, showcasing what local people are doing – or could do – to help save our planet as a viable home for humanity. For example, there’ll be an Eco Fashion Show with local people modelling their beautifully upcycled/recycled clothes, with a guest appearance from a local seamstress who featured on the BBC’s Great British Sewing Bee. There’ll also be a Sussex flower grower, who was a CPRE Countryside Award Winner in 2020, talking about how cut flowers flown in from abroad have a huge carbon footprint and why it’s best to buy sustainably grown British flowers.

The E-Hive Marquee will be open from 11am to 6pm on each of the three days of the festival, requiring many volunteers to ensure that the events within the marquee run smoothly. If you’d like to volunteer, please email:

But what is the Eastbourne Climate Coalition? The most recent conference of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel, on Climate Change, COP26, took place in Glasgow in November 2021. During that momentous event there were innumerable rallies and demonstrations throughout the world organised by civic groups determined to send a message to governments everywhere that urgent action is needed to avert the threat of catastrophic climate change. Eastbourne was no exception, as a large march and rally in the town was organised by the Eastbourne COP26 Coalition, co-ordinating a wide range of local organisations together under one banner to demand urgent climate action.

Since then, the Eastbourne COP26 Coalition has morphed into the Eastbourne Climate Coalition (ECC) and now has a membership of over 40 local organisations, and later articles in this column will showcase some of those organisations, such as Bespoke and Just Stop Oil. The ECC is following up on COP26 with a project to create Eastbourne’s very own Climate Emergency Centre, a hub for climate action where local people and community groups can gather to collaborate on climate-related issues in the local area and beyond. The ECC has recently completed a successful crowdfunding appeal to raise its first pot of funds for the Climate Hub project and is busy searching for suitable premises in central Eastbourne. But the ECC is not waiting for premises before engaging with local people about climate action. Hence its involvement with the E-Hive Marquee, which is in effect a perfect opportunity to demonstrate the kinds of activities that can take place in a local Climate Hub.

COP26 revealed how far the world still has to go to prevent climate breakdown, and Eastbourne is very much in the front line of climate change, especially as regards the increased flooding risks that are a consequence of the rising sea levels and stronger storm surges of a rapidly warming world. The climate news may seem grim, but the good news is that pretty much all the actions needed to alleviate the climate crisis have a huge range of co-benefits that actually make life easier, cleaner, healthier, safer, and ultimately happier – such as cleaner air and water, better walking and cycling infrastructure, more urban trees to provide cool shade in heatwaves, more wildlife returning to the countryside, and so on.

Moreover, just engaging in climate actions can be fun too, as the events in the E-Hive will demonstrate, with songs, music, dance, creative workshops, poetry, fashion shows, and much more. Yes, the Eastbourne Climate Coalition is buzzing around town, as you can discover for yourself when you fly into the E-Hive Marquee and see what’s pollinating there!



Restoring Eastbourne’s miniature rainforest

One of the things I love about living in Eastbourne is access straight up onto the South Downs. I enjoy walking on the Downs, taking in the views, especially those that look out to sea, but one of the most enjoyable aspects for me is the chalk grassland. Chalk grasslands are found in northwest Europe, and are some of the most species rich habitats we have, in fact they have even been called the European equivalent to tropical rainforests because they are so species rich. They are particularly rich in plants with up to 45 different species in one square metre on the best sites. You can find many species of orchids, wild thyme and other herbs, tiny eye-brights, milkworts, and fairy flax, bold knap-weeds, and fine grasses as well as the County flower the blue and spikey round-headed rampion. They are also known for their invertebrates, with numerous species beetle, butterfly, moth and grasshopper found exclusively on chalk grasslands.

You would be forgiven for thinking that as we live at the foot of the South Downs – a chalk ridge that runs all the way to Winchester in Hampshire – and that for the most part in the open landscape of the eastern end of the Downs, that chalk grassland is the dominant habitat. Unfortunately like many other habitats in England our abysmal lost of biodiversity has reduced the amount of chalk grassland across the South Downs to just 4 % of its original cover. But before digging into why we have so little left, lets get into what exactly chalk grasslands are.



Chalk grasslands are often referred to as calcareous grasslands. This is a fancier way of saying something is rich in calcium carbonate. In this case it is the chalk bedrock under the soil. However, this is really important as it affects the pH of the soil. That scale of acid to alkaline. And because the bedrock of the South Downs is chalk, the soils here are alkaline. It is worth pointing out that another feature of these soils is that they are generally shallow and very nutrient poor. Sometimes the plants that grow on places like the South Downs are referred to as calcicoles. A calcicole is a botanical word which simply means a chalk loving plant. So, the chalk grasslands on the South Downs are a suit of plants adapted to the alkaline soils which overlay the chalk bedrock, many of which are restricted to growing only in places where chalk or limestone underlay the soil. And despite what may sound contrary, these plants thrive on the thin nutrient poor soils, indeed it is these very conditions that make chalk grasslands so species rich because it stimulates competition between species.

But why is there so little of it, and what is growing on the South Downs if it’s not chalk grassland? There used to be far more chalk grassland on the Downs than there is now and that is due to former land use. Some form of management is required to maintain chalk grasslands. Livestock grazing, on the higher and steeper slopes, especially with sheep is the traditional use of the South Downs. Sheep grazing has been active on much of the Downs since before the Roman times, but was dominant from the medieval period onwards until World War II. The soils on the Downs are shallow and nutrient poor, and often dry because rainwater percolates away quickly through chalk. Conditions that meant that until more recently this land was unsuitable for arable (crop) production, which was confined to the foot of the Downs, although some of the south facing more gentle slopes have been ploughed since the 1700’s. Post-World War II saw the advancement of technology in agriculture through machinery, biocides, fertilizers and resistant crop strains which lead to land that had previously been considered unsuitable for crop production being ploughed up on the South Downs. This greatly affected the way the South Downs were farmed; with only the steepest slopes left unploughed.

The reality is that most of it has been lost. What remains of good quality chalk grassland on the South Downs make up less than 30% of the calcareous grassland in the whole of the southeast of England- other areas include the Surrey Hills and the Kent Downs. Most areas of chalk grassland are confined almost exclusively to highly fragmented patches on the steep north facing slopes called the scarp slope. This becomes really evident if you ever look at the location of protected sites known as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI’s) across the eastern half of the Downs. They are predominately found on the northern facing slopes. Fragmentation, or the breaking up of large areas of chalk grassland into smaller isolated patches leads to the rapid loss of calcicole plant species from remaining chalk grassland, and associated invertebrates. The good news was that the steeper slopes provided an environment more resistant to change for chalk grasslands, because the soil can be especially thin on these slopes, which in turn favours the calcicole species. However, farming practices are continuing to change, a new problem has arisen as the steeper slopes are abandoned from livestock grazing or indeed any management at all, which has led to the encroachment of scrub and ‘secondary’ woodland. This smothers the grassland and has meant the gradual loss of calcareous grassland on even these steeper north facing slopes as well.

Restoration of chalk grassland often involves the removal of scrub, trees and shrubs and the reintroduction of grazing to maintain its characteristic short grass. If an area can’t be grazed then it can be cut, although the cuttings need to be removed, this is because as cuttings rot down, they return nutrients to the soil and this allows plant species that we wouldn’t normally see gain a foothold into these plant communities, such as nettles. The little calcicoles cannot compete with the likes of quick growing and tall nettles and soon disappear.

Eastbourne is no exception in having lost some of the steep scarp slope to secondary woodland, which more recently has been devastated by ash die-back disease. However, we are also fortunate in Eastbourne as we do still have some really good south facing chalk grassland particularly between Holywell and Cow Gap.

Fortunately chalk grassland is now designated a ‘priority habitat’. This means it is a habitat that has been identified as threatened with loss and requiring conservation action, something that the South Downs National Park is working hard on. There is another important grassland on the chalk slopes around Eastbourne, known as good quality ‘semi-improved grassland’. Good quality semi-improved grassland is the grassland best placed for restoration to chalk grassland, as it contains many of the calcicole species. But what sets it apart from chalk grassland is that it is likely to have been victim to agricultural ‘improvement’ at some point, or other poor management from which it is now recovering from.

If you want to see exactly where chalk and semi-improved grasslands can be found in and around Eastbourne, it is worth first looking at Defra’s Magic Map Application (, an open resource that maps all of England’s designated protected sites and areas as well as priority habitats. Below is a snapshot to illustrate all of the priority grasslands found in and around Eastbourne.


I couldn’t write this blog without talking about carbon, because this is the Eastbourne EcoAction website right? Well chalk grassland (and indeed all other species rich grasslands) are a huge source of carbon stores in their soils. In fact, carbon stores in grassland soils are, in some cases are as good as the stores in woodland soils. However, disturbance of the soil, such as ploughing or digging up releases that stored carbon back into the atmosphere and it can take a long-time to restore what has been lost. We also now know that the more species diverse grasslands hold more carbon that species poor grasslands – another great reason to love chalk grasslands, and see them being restored.There are four priority grassland habitats: calcareous grassland (khaki), coastal and floodplain grazing marsh (blue), lowland meadow (lime), and good quality semi-improved grasslands (purple). The map shows how lucky we are to have so much south facing chalk grassland, a rarity indeed. Likewise, we can see how much of the scarp slope facing Eastbourne is good quality semi-improved grassland, ideal for restoration to chalk grassland.

So, although much has been lost, chalk grassland is recognised as one of the most biodiverse habitats we have in this country, and here in Eastbourne have it on our doorstep – our own rainforest in miniature! Restoration projects help enhance and restore it to its former glory and that in turn supports a host of other species, many of which are also in decline that are dependant on it. So next time you are out on the Downs, I encourage you to try and find some of the places the chalk and semi-improved grassland exists, take or download a plant I.D. guide and see what you can find.

Author: Sarah Brotherton is an ecologist who lives in Eastbourne, currently working for the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Time to step off the gas

A crowdfunding appeal has just been launched to raise start-up funds for a Climate Hub in Eastbourne.

A crowdfunding appeal has just been launched to raise start-up funds for a Climate Hub in Eastbourne. The crowdfunder can be found here.

You might have two questions at this point:

  1. What is a Climate Hub?
  2. Why bother creating one when there’s so much else to deal with, like the cost of living crisis and the invasion of Ukraine?

Actually, the answer to the second question helps to answer the first one. Let me explain:

Burning gas fuels wars as well as warming

One of the fundamental reasons why we have both a cost of living crisis and a war in Ukraine is because of fossil fuels and our current excessive use of them throughout the world, including Eastbourne. Yes, the very same fossil fuels that are the predominant causes of global warming are also the predominant source of revenue for the Russian government’s ability to wage war in Ukraine on the scale it is able to, as well as ensuring that the gas supply to heat European homes is becoming eye-wateringly expensive.

About 40% of the carbon emissions generated in Eastbourne comes from the gas consumed to heat homes and businesses throughout the town. That is a huge dependence upon a fossil fuel that also helps to make climate change so much worse, making the town more vulnerable to flooding from the rising seas and stronger storm surges. Worse still, the steeply rising price of gas creates vast revenues for autocratic governments, revenues which can go into funding huge war machines.

The fierce urgency of now

On top of all this, in the last week the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has released its latest assessment report on climate change, with one of its authors giving us this chilling warning:

“The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human wellbeing and the health of the planet,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner, a co-chair of working group 2 of the IPCC. “Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.”

Getting off the gas, one hub at a time

So, to deal with the cost of living crisis effectively, we need to shield ourselves from the rising price of gas. And to deal with the aggression of certain states we need to reduce our dependence on the gas they sell to fund their wars. What better solution than to reduce our consumption of gas or, better still, stop consuming it completely?

Can we do so? Yes. There are alternatives to gas for heating our homes and businesses. Which brings us to the point about creating a Climate Hub, for such a place will enable Eastbourne residents to learn about those alternatives, find out how to access funding for those alternatives, gain support to make any lifestyle and behaviour changes that may help reduce energy costs generally, collaborate on creating local climate actions that make a real difference to making the town far more sustainable and resilient in the face of climate change impacts, and much, much more.

There are many Climate Hubs throughout the UK now, – including ones in Lewes, Seaford, and Guildford – all run by dedicated volunteers and all providing, amongst many other services, crucial energy advice and support to help local people deal with rising fuel bills. If you’d like to help Eastbourne get one, then please donate to the Eastbourne Climate Hub crowdfunder. Thank you.

Eastbourne Bandstand: facing the music?

The future of Eastbourne’s bandstand is highly symbolic, for we all have to face the music. That means facing up to the challenges of climate change and its inevitable impacts.

The bandstand on Eastbourne’s promenade is iconic, much loved by residents and visitors alike. It is a key part of the town’s tourist identity. Eastbourne Borough Council recently announced that it would spend £750,000 on urgently needed structural repairs to ensure it could continue to function safely.

But what about the long-term? Eastbourne – like coastal communities around the world – is a town literally in the front line of climate change, facing head-on the rising sea levels and stronger storm surges of a rapidly warming world. But the Bandstand is arguably beyond even that front line, jutting out at beach level into the no man’s land between high and low tides where the future of Eastbourne will be decided.

At present, at significant cost each year, the beach itself is replenished with fresh shingle and the groynes are maintained or renewed. Without that constant work, there would be no effective protection for the Bandstand, or indeed the promenade as a whole.

The Environment Agency is at present designing a new sea defence strategy for the coast between the Wish Tower and Pevensey Bay. It will cost at least £100 million to build and construction is due to start in 2025. Without this scheme, the town would be at the mercy of a sea level rise that would simply overwhelm the existing sea defences causing catastrophic, and possibly permanent, damage to the town.

So the Bandstand’s future is highly symbolic, for we all have to face the music. That means facing up to the challenges of climate change and its inevitable impacts.

The Bandstand can be saved for us and future generations to enjoy, but it may have to be remodelled completely as part of a general remodelling of the entire seafront promenade, which itself has to be integrated into a remodelled coastline beyond the town itself. But remodelling ourselves into a more resilient, sustainable community and a more localised economy is the essential complement to such physical remodelling.