Wilding Waterhall

Restoring chalk grassland, improving biodiversity and supporting public engagement on a former council golf course.

What Wilding Waterhall is

At Wilding Waterhall nature reserve we are working to restore rare chalk grassland and improve habitats for our local wildlife. Insects, birds, and bats will all benefit.

The reserve will provide the perfect living classroom. It will connect local residents and communities with our internationally important local environment. We can show you the vital role it plays in positively tackling climate and biodiversity emergencies.

With the help of grazing animals, we will return the 90-hectare (222 acre) site to nature and have designated it a Local Nature Reserve. Rewilding the old golf course in this way will create a rich mosaic of downland habitats. This will include chalk grassland, biodiverse native scrub, woodland, and dew ponds.

You can watch the Wilding Waterhall video below to find out more.

a view of rolling green hills down toward the sea. A patchwork of different habitats can be seen - shrubs, trees and grassland

Improving health and wellbeing

Nature can generate a multitude of positive emotions. Feeling connected to nature can improve mental health. It lowers depression and anxiety levels. As part of the project we also hope to ‘re-wild’ residents of Brighton and Hove. We want to promote better health and wellbeing.

We’ll be installing an extensive network of marked trails across the site to guide people around this spectacular landscape.

We'll be collaborating with local schools to host outdoor lessons. Giving children a chance to head out of the city, the lessons will help inspire a love for nature. A lasting connection to the great outdoors for the next generation.

Restoring nature and reducing the effects of climate change

In 2018 Brighton and Hove City Council declared climate and biodiversity emergencies. Restoring areas of natural landscape like Waterhall helps to:

  • capture carbon
  • cool the city
  • clean our air
  • reduce flood risk
  • provide homes for our declining wildlife populations

Chalk grassland is sometimes called 'Europe's tropical rainforest' due to its varied wildlife. Each square metre is home to up to 40 species of plants. This includes rare orchids and Sussex's county flower – the round-headed rampion. Since the Second World War we've lost over 80% of our special chalk grassland habitats.

A wilded Waterhall will help restore nature. It will provide a haven for a variety of animals and plants. As well as enhancing biodiversity, the project will create local nature recovery networks. These will be able to absorb and store more carbon. It helps the council fulfil its commitment of becoming carbon neutral by 2030.

Biodiversity is our planet’s life support system. Restoring nature underpins the health and wellbeing of people and wildlife in an era of climate change.

What to see - habitats and wildlife

The chalk grassland on site is already home to a wonderful variety of downland plants. These add a splash of colour to the landscape from April to October. Cowslips are often first to appear, with yellow rock rose, purple knapweeds and stunning blue harebells following on.

We have chalk specialist butterflies, such as the silver spotted skipper and adonis blue. They love to sip nectar from the rich variety of flowers during the summer months. Food and shelter in the reserve supports important protected species of reptiles and mammals.

You can find natural scrub areas dotted across the site. Packed with species like hawthorn and dog rose, these are a valuable source of berries for wintering birds and small mammals. These areas also provide safe bird nesting havens in the spring.

Dew ponds were historically installed by farmers across the South Downs as a source of water for their grazing sheep. In an otherwise dry chalky landscape, these oases are vital watering holes for many species. The dew pond at Waterhall is an important part of this network.

Four Sussex Red cattle stand in a line on a hillside, facing toward the camera

Photo credit: Roly Puzey, 2022