Aerial survey of the South Downs is part of a programme of work designed to enhance our understanding of the archaeology within the newly created South Downs National Park.
This page covers two areas of the Downs; the area to the north of Worthing and the area between Beachy Head and the River Ouse which are to be mapped in 2011/12.
Within the project area are the two Iron Age hill forts Cissbury Ring and Chanctonbury Ring. Aerial photographs have revealed the earthworks and cropmarks of many other prehistoric and later sites across the South Downs. Most widespread of all were the remains of prehistoric or Roman fields, sometimes called ‘Celtic’ fields. Some of the settlements, enclosures and tracks that linked them and the fields together were also seen.
Other prehistoric monuments include Bronze Age burial mounds and, along the ridges and spurs of the Downs, Bronze Age or Iron Age cross-dykes. These usually consist of a single bank and ditch, with the bank on the down-slope.
A number of terraces called strip lynchets have been seen on the scarp of the South Downs. These provide the main evidence for arable farming here during the medieval or post-medieval periods. As these steep slopes are difficult to plough, it may be that they were only cultivated during periods of food shortage due to population pressure, such as during 12th and 13th centuries.
Dewponds provide the best evidence of sheep rearing. These ponds, despite their name, were primarily filled by rainwater and were for livestock that would otherwise have had to be taken to natural water sources off the Downs.
The Second World War and the post-war ploughing of the Downs
The aerial photographs reveal the considerable impact the war had on this landscape. Initially this was in the form of anti-invasion defences both along the coast and further inland. Worthing was enclosed by a defensive line made up of anti-tank ditches and concrete blocks and similar features are seen to the north around Cissbury Ring hillfort.
In 1942 the South Downs was requisitioned as an army training area. Shell craters, tank firing ranges, military roads and scorched earth all point to various different activities taking place there. The war in the air is represented in and around Worthing and Lancing by anti-aircraft batteries, air-raid shelters and static water supplies for fighting fires.
Due to the post-war food shortage there were government incentives to plough-up land for cereals. Aerial photographs taken after the army had left the South Downs in 1947 show the widespread ploughing-up of downland. This ploughing not only transformed large areas of downland to arable but also levelled many of the archaeological earthworks seen on earlier photographs.
The NMP survey has also highlighted some of the effects of the Second World War on Worthing and the Downs. Anti-tank cubes, anti-tank ditches, anti-aircraft batteries and air raid shelters are just some of the features identified during the survey. Many of the wartime features were removed after the war and in some cases the aerial photographs may offer the only way to accurately recreate some of main constructions of the wartime landscape. The anti-tank cubes that form part of the coastal defence at Worthing can be seen on a photograph taken in January 1943. The anti-invasion measures also included the removal of a section of the pier.
The effect of requisition of the downs for military training can be seen on Barnsfarm Hill and Highden Hill. The dark marks top left and bottom right are probably scorch marks caused by flame throwing tanks. The light coloured curve in the centre is an anti-tank ditch and the narrow dark lines are formed by coiled barbed wire. The dark diagonal line running along the top of the lower group of scorch marks is a Bronze Age or Iron Age cross-dyke.
The images used on this page are copyright English Heritage unless specified otherwise. For further details of any photographs or other images and for copies of these, or the plans and reports related to the project please contact the English Heritage Archive.
For further information on a project or any other aspect of the work of the Aerial Survey team please contact us by email via the link above.