Book review – The Land of the Brighton Line

By Steve Lewis, Action in rural Sussex

This is a wonderful, poetic, reference book to the flora and fauna of mid-Sussex & Surrey and will be cherished by any lovers of the countryside. Written by the environmental activist David Bangs the book has taken a decade to compile and is based on 50 years walking in the region.

Wild daffodils in Old Knepp North Park

The Land of the Brighton Line: is a field guide to the Low Weald, that 30 mile tranche of land that lies between the North and South Downs. It is an unusual book because while it is meticulously researched, for example including maps dating back to 1530, it is also beautifully written and includes poetry and stunning photos. Describing a woodcock David writes:

“…such a kaleidoscope of autumn colours, a miracle of woodland camouflage… a chequered pattern of russet and chestnut – like a stained glass window… the essence of autumn.”

He describes how the April bluebells brings tears to the eye of a friend of his, and how his unexpected welcome from a farmer, whilst not on the right of way, moved him to emotion.

His descriptions of the veteran trees of Sussex are deeply moving. Discussing the vast biodiversity to be found in ancient trees – which can be 500 years old – he describes how he feels in the presence of these majestic beasts:

“I call them he or she, not it, for their degree of livingness seems so tangible: they have arms and trunks and legs, they stand, lean, give shelter, embrace, wave, murmur, and roar to the wind. I find myself showing respect as though they could hear me. They have a not-busy kindness, a living stillness, that all of us can acknowledge”.

Dave Bangs with ‘The Greentrees Giant’

The structure of the book is simple, with thematic chapters describing the trees, rivers, meadows and wildlife of the region, followed by 17 detailed geographic area guides. The thematic chapter on Woods describes for example the 1075 veteran and ancient trees David has mapped so far.

The area chapters will give you a detailed description of the delights to be found in our mid-Sussex countryside, ready for your next ramble or weekend outing. These area guides provide superb reference information and maps, for example for our work in the Lost Woods project:

Sadly though, an undercurrent of the whole book is that our environment is under huge threat. Whilst there is some protection for the ‘highlights’ of our Sussex countryside  – for example Butchers Wood in Hassocks protected by the Woodland Trust, or Chanctonbury Ring protected by the National Trust, most of Sussex is under threat from urban expansion.

Just one of many tranquil spots in the area

As we see the ever expanding industrial growth of London, and Gatwick/Crawley, and the demand for new roads (A27 widening) and new housing, there is a need for the Sussex countryside to be protected not only loved. Proposals such as the current new town that would concrete-over East Chiltington  are slowly destroying the remaining ancient woods and countryside described in this article:

A rare sight, Betony in an ancient meadow

As David writes – “My concerns are for the green places that no one has written about and few know. It is those places that need friends most urgently. Enjoy and delight in the countryside which is our true home. If you do not know it you cannot fight on its behalf.”

To obtain The Land of the Brighton Line contact

“Supporting rural communities in Sussex to be vibrant and diverse places in which to live and work.”