The Sale of Ashdown Forest

... and how it was saved for the nation

Spring Eexhibition Poster

In the 1980s Ashdown Forest came within a whisker of being broken up and sold off piecemeal to private investors, with potentially devastating consequences for the preservation of its cherished landscape and continued public access.

In 1987 the Lord of the Manor of Duddleswell, the 10th Earl De La Warr, announced that he had decided to sell Ashdown Forest. He offered first refusal to East Sussex County Council, but the council was only able to pay a fraction of his asking price. The council's predicament triggered an urgent campaign, led by the Friends of Ashdown Forest, to raise the required funds that would ensure the purchase of the Forest by the council sale and preserve it in public ownership for posterity.

The high profile appeal excited national and international media attention, and attracted the support of celebrities like Christopher Robin Milne (of Winnie-the-Pooh fame) and the film star Dirk Bogarde, both of whom knew the Forest well from childhood. Donations flooded in from far and wide.

The Ashdown Forest Research Group's interest was originally sparked by the discovery of a book among the Conservators' archives that listed the names of almost two thousand people and organisations who contributed to the appeal. We decided to find out more about the people who supported the campaign and what motivated them to do so. This led to an exhibition at the Ashdown Forest Centre in Spring 2022 which told the story of the fund-raising campaign.

The exhibition also explored two other major crises that Ashdown Forest faced at this time — the threat of oil exploration and the devastating impact of the 'Great Storm' — and set the sale in the context of Ashdown Forest's history from its emergence as a deer hunting park in the Middle Ages through to the establishment of the Board of Conservators in 1885. Finally, it outlined the severe challenges being addressed by the Conservators of Ashdown Forest in the 21st century.

An article about the sale of Ashdown Forest and the fundraising campaign was published in Ashdown Forest News, the magazine of the Friends of Ashdown Forest. Click here to view.


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