The ARC project shows us working together helps sustain our National Parks

  • Contributor information: CNP

Fran Southgate looks at the lessons and achievements of the ARC project, winners of the 2016 Park Protector Award.

Traditional conservation methods alone no longer work to protect our natural environment, and we have had to change how we approach the stewardship of our countryside. Only by working together in partnerships across large, landscape areas, can we begin to tackle some of the huge issues that face us like climate change, flooding, habitat fragmentation and human disconnection from nature.

It’s from this place that the Arun & Rother Connections (ARC) project was born in the South Downs National Park. Three years in the making, and 4 years to deliver the project,  it enabled people from all walks of life to help make the Arun & Rother valleys a better place for people and wildlife, which lead to it receiving the Park Protector 2016 award from the Campaign for National Parks.

The outcomes of the project were beyond what we could have hoped for. We had nationally rare species turn up overnight. We created 37.5 hectares of woodland, species rich meadow and seasonal water, and over 18 km of rare chalk and greensand streams and river were enhanced. Ecological networks were mapped, over 200 km of river were surveyed for water voles, dragonflies and invasive species, and flood storage and carbon storage were enhanced including through 4 community SUDS (Sustainable Urban Drainage System) schemes. And this is very much the short list of the achievements!


The ARC project winning the 2016 Park Protector Award

A huge thank you is due to the hundreds of volunteers who gave up their time, expertise and hard work for us. 1119 volunteers gave 1985 volunteer days or cumulatively 5.4 years of their time to help support this project – we couldn’t have done it without them.

For me it was about changing lives as well as improving our environment. The difference that a bit of support and a small amount of funding made to so many people was hugely impactful. We held over 70 community events including everything from landowner workshops, to young photographer workshops, river clean ups and water vole training days. The positive feedback from the communities and the participants made all of it worthwhile.

The ARC project at the new volunteer shelter at Pulborough Brooks

One of the simplest, and most effective things that we did was to administer a small Community grants scheme, coupled with advice and support for local community groups. This fund enabled 43 different projects and groups to be supported, to create everything from wader scrapes to orchards, river habitat workshops, hedgerows, boardwalks, school garden enhancements and more. 

At the end of the ARC project, we were lucky enough to be nominated and to win the National Park Protector Award. The £2,000 prize money has helped sustain the legacy of the project by funding a National park based invasive species task force. We also believe that the legacy of the partnerships that were built will help to sustain healthy landscapes in this area for many years to come.

It has been a privilege and a pleasure to work with so many passionate and enthusiastic people. The National Parks embody the landscape scale approach to creating healthy landscapes for people and for wildlife, and working with the South Downs National Park helped to make the project what it was. We wish the very best to all the projects hoping to win the Park protector award this year. I’m sure you’re all doing incredible work.

By Fran Southgate, Living Landscapes Officer, Sussex Wildlife Trust.

The Park Protector 2017 competition is currently accepting nominations see here for more information

Further information :-

The ARC Project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and all the project partners.


The ARC Project was a partnership between the South Downs National Park Authority, RSPB, Sussex Wildlife Trust, West Sussex county Council, Environment Agency, Natural England and the Arun & Rother Rivers Trust. Particular thanks to the RSPB who took on the financial management of the project.

More information can be found at

Arun & Rother Connections – Sussex Wildlife Trust

ARC – Arun & Western Streams Catchment

A free Rivers education pack can be downloaded here