Film courtesy of Louisa Jones

Worth and St.Leonard’s Forest, just south of Crawley, is the largest area of forest woodland in West Sussex. The land has been privately owned by the Pearson family, which made its fortune from railways and oil in Mexico then through its publishing empire in the UK, and is now administered through Trustees.

The forest remains very private with very few public rights of way across this huge beautiful area of Sussex. Parts of it is designated as a Site of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI) despite extensive conifer planting which has crowded out ancient yew, oak, birch and beech trees as well as rare alders.

The varied and ancient habitat contains uncommon lichens, mosses, ferns and fungi, and supports the tiniest Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, Marsh Tits and Hawfinches right up to Goshawks, Hobby Falcons, and other large birds. Insect life includes dragonflies, glow worms, rare damselflies and rare beetles.

But last year, Center Parcs announced they’d secured the option to buy 553 acres at Oldhouse Warren, which is right next to the SSSI and in an area classified as an Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty (AONB). The company is now beginning a process of consultation and engagement to win over the community to build their 6th UK holiday resort in this peaceful haven.

The announcement has raised ecological and environmental concerns, and the RSPB, Woodland Trust, and several other organisations issued a joint press release expressing grave concerns over irreversible loss of wildlife habitat, lack of climate consideration, and breach of AONB protection.

Yanno Andrews, the Sussex Area Manager for the RSPB says: “The proposed site at Oldhouse Warren is home to rare and threatened birds, alongside irreplaceable ancient woodland habitat. It is critical that these special places are safeguarded for now and the future. Not only is this habitat irreplaceable due to its importance for biodiversity and nature’s recovery, but it is also key to tackling the climate emergency by providing carbon storage. Allowing Center Parcs to develop this site will contravene local and national planning policy, whilst also acting against the UK’s commitment to 30% of land protected by 2030. It is imperative that Center Parcs avoids Oldhouse Warren in its search for a leisure park; for both nature and people.”

So on Saturday, as part of their campaign to ensure public access and the right to roam across the South Downs and Sussex Weald, Landscapes of Freedom and Right To Roam organised a mass trespass at the proposed Worth Forest site, and hundreds of people wandered across the private land to highlight the general need for a public right to roam (as there is in Scotland), and the particular issue facing the future of Oldhouse Warren.

Real Media is grateful to Louisa Jones who created this film of the action on the 24th September.