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Peter Simpson, Trudie Mitchell, Tim Thomas, Nigel Langridge, Sally Sanderson, Rob  Robertson and Morag Warrack  (©AAH/Alan Wright)

Published on 1st September 2023

Horsham Green Spaces is a forum for those wanting to enhance the town’s biodiversity and protect important spaces from the threat of development. The group includes representatives of the Friends of Horsham Park, Chesworth Farm and Warnham Nature Reserve, as well as people who care for smaller green spaces such as allotments, cemeteries and recreation grounds. Its aim is to enhance, connect and protect the green spaces around the town for the benefit of residents, visitors and wildlife.

Sally Sanderson, Chair of the Friends of Horsham Park, said: ‘When Horsham District Council (HDC) planned to develop land around Rookwood, close to Warnham Local Nature Reserve (WLNR), there was strong opposition from the public. For those of us involved in fighting the plan, it felt like there was an element of ‘divide and conquer’, in that we were told that if we didn’t develop at Rookwood, then they’d have to build somewhere like Chesworth Farm instead, to meet housing demands.’ 

‘Rather than being in competition with people protecting other green spaces in town, we decided to come together. That way, we could pool resources and work more strategically with the local authorities, rather than opposing schemes as individual groups. We started meeting quarterly and established aims to enhance the natural beauty of our green spaces for those who enjoy them, connect them for the benefit of wildlife, and protect them from development threats.’ 



Since HGS was founded three years ago, it has carried out several significant projects. The first was to record ‘notable, veteran and ancient’ trees in the town. A list that once comprised only a handful of trees now has hundreds, potentially helping to preserve them from felling in future. The next project was a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis of green spaces, to understand how they are used and the wildlife each one attracts. This information can then be fed into future planning for each green space. 

Now, the volunteers at HGS are embarking on their most ambitious project yet. Called ‘Get Horsham Buzzing’, they are mapping out ‘flyway’ corridors to connect green spaces across town. They are working in partnership with HDC and the Sussex Wildlife Trust (SWT) on the project, as part of the Wilder Horsham District initiative. 

Nigel Langridge, who is leading the mapping project, said: ‘Wilder Horsham is a wonderful initiative as the Council is actively engaging with SWT. However, its focus to date has largely been on rural areas and hasn’t engaged with residents in the town. So, what we’re trying to do is develop a unique urban nature recovery scheme, mapping out natural routes or ‘flyways’ that go through Horsham. SWT are also rolling out the ambitious Weald to Waves project, with the core corridor passing close to Horsham. The flyways have been designed to try and reach out and connect the town with the Weald to Waves corridor.’

‘We began by using Google Maps to connect small patches of green spaces with larger spaces such as Horsham Park, Bolding’s Brook and Chesworth Farm. We identified about 120 small green spaces and used tree lines, hedges, rivers, streams and other natural features to mark out ‘green corridors’ or ‘flyways’. What this has revealed is just how important a grass verge by the roadside or a wooded copse by a school field can be to the eco system, as they help connect larger green spaces.’ 

‘We have mapped out seven flyways in all directions across town, but they are not all complete. There are gaps that require action. However, by working with local authorities on grass cutting schedules and encouraging churches, schools and others across the community to engage with the project, we can create complete flyways that support a wide range of wildlife.’



To complete these natural corridors, residents need to get involved, as gardens help wildlife to navigate between green spaces. Residents in Horsham’s three Neighbourhood Councils (Denne, Forest and Trafalgar) and in North Horsham Parish can all make a difference. Denne includes parts of the Riverside Walk, but also the town centre, where action is required. 

Trudie Mitchell, Chair of Denne Neighbourhood Council, said: ‘We have established a scheme called Wild Denne with the aim of promoting wildflower meadows and restoring habitat for butterflies, bees and other pollinators. We already have a small area devoted to rewilding, thanks to the great work of Cllr Paul Sharman, and will be looking at other areas including the Needles recreation ground in future. However, we need to consider everyone, as some of these spaces are in densely populated urban areas and used for sport and recreation.’



In Trafalgar, the Neighbourhood Council has distributed free packets of wildflower seeds to residents, many of whom live in Victorian terraced houses. Morag Warrack, Chair of HTNC, said: ‘It is understandable that many front gardens have been concreted over due to the lack of street parking, while more back gardens have   cabins serving as a work-from-home office. With less grass and fewer plants, those natural corridors for bees and butterflies become much harder to navigate.’ 

‘So, we encourage residents to do what they can to help. That could be putting up hanging baskets, growing vines around a cabin, or for those living in flats, putting plants out on balconies. Pollinators enable plants to produce seeds and fruits. Ultimately, without pollinators our food security is at risk, so we need to help them in any small way we can.’



Wildlife enthusiasts are involved in HGS too, offering advice and guidance on the grasses and plants found in various green spaces. This can help inform how local authorities approach grass cutting, as wild flowers like hawkbits, yarrows and buttercups can all be vital to the local eco-system.

Naturalist Tim Thomas said: ‘All plants increase the diversity of our flora and fauna and contribute to our pollinator flyways. Creating and maintaining wildflowers in open areas such as roadside verges, parks and gardens is key to providing attractive corridors for our key pollinators. As well as capturing more carbon than mown grass, our wild meadows are vital for small mammals, such as mice and voles.’ 

‘Mapping out the flyway corridors is important too, as they show what we need to do to connect green spaces. For a bird or a maybug, flying 200 metres across heavily mown turf doesn’t matter much. But for bees, butterflies, hoverflies, beetles and other small insects, that can be a significant distance to navigate. So, if we can create natural verges or provide plants that allow them to move from one garden to another, it’ll contribute to more diversity.’



The group aims to engage with schools, care homes and businesses, offering information on what they can do to create wildlife-friendly opportunities. Allotments also attract wildlife (not always welcome!) and some holders are helping out by growing not only vegetables, but wild flowers for pollination.  

Rob Robertson, estate manager at Chesworth allotments, said: ‘We have surveyed the trees on the allotments and keep a record of wildlife sightings, with everything from grass snakes and slow worms to bats and owls. Some plots are not ideal for vegetables, perhaps because of shading, so in these cases, we’re looking to grow wildlife friendly plants. We also encourage plot holders to embrace wildlife and not be upset if a small percentage of produce is eaten by slugs, snails or other locals. I’ve seen a fieldmouse gnawing away at one of my pumpkins and it made me happy. I had three, he had one, and I was fine with that!’ 

These small changes combined can make a big difference in years to come, says Peter Simpson (Friends of WLNR). He said: ‘Life is adaptable, and the more opportunities we create, the more life will take advantage. Improving our environment is a long-term project and we won’t see the results immediately. But if we continue to make positive changes, year on year, the biodiversity of Horsham will surely grow.’ 


Further information: For more details, email co-ordinator Hils, Volunteer Co-ordinator, at horshamgreenspaces@gmail.com