The downland nature reserve of Ditchling Beacon is one of the highest points on the South Downs, commanding 360 degree views of the Weald and coastal strip. Located just south of the pretty village of Ditchling the nature reserve is a mecca for picnickers and walkers alike with the South Downs Way path crossing its southerly boundary.
A registered Common, Ditchling Beacon isalso known as Tenantry Down to people living locally. It is owned by the original commoners, the Ditchling Common and Tenantry Down Ltd who acquired all of the Ditchling Parish commons in the 1950s to safeguard their future.
Over the past 70 years the nature reserve has lost up to 60% of its chalk grassland to trees and scrub through historical declines in grazing and the increasingly busy Bostal Road cutting through the heart of the site. Sussex Wildlife Trust took on the management of the nature reserve in 1976 and has spent the past 40 years reclaiming this challenging, north facing steep scarp slope. Many volunteer hours have been spent clearing the trees and scrub and traditional grazing methods have been introduced to manage the flower rich grassland.
In late summer, the deep blue/purple of round-headed rampion, the adopted flower of the Sussex South Downs, grows in abundance across the slopes. The beautiful fern-like moss Thuidium assimile carpets this area in places and Ditchling Beacon is one of very few sites for this species in Sussex.
The flat plateau at the top of the reserve was ploughed up until the mid-1970s and, although coarse grasses still make up the majority of the grassland, wild marjoram, semi-parasitic yellow rattle and common spotted-orchid grow in abundance.
The herb rich chalk grassland provides valuable foodplants and nectar for a range of butterflies and insects including the chalkhill blue and the uncommon silver-spotted skipper. In areas with exposed chalk, you could see the chalk carpet. If walking through the long grass, look out for the lesser bloody-nosed beetle named because if startled, a foul tasting red liquid flows from its mouth to deter predators.