Chailey Common Nature Reserve
Chailey Common was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 and was used over a long period of time for grazing livestock and cutting wood and bracken for fuel. The area belonged to the manor of Balneath, once part of the estates of St Pancras’ Priory, Lewes. The manor was granted to Thomas Cromwell at the Dissolution in 1537, and then passed to Anne of Cleves and subsequently Sir William Goring, with whose descendents it remained until c.1900.
Common Nature Reserve is one of the largest remaining areas of open heathland in Sussex. It was designated an SSSI in 1954 and, with the help of the Chailey Commons Society, also designated as an LNR in 1966. The Common consists of 450 acres of lowland heath, split into sections by a network of roads. Parts of the Common are further divided by tracks giving access to private property, and it is bordered by farmland, private property and Chailey Heritage. The heath is a mix of bracken, grasses and heather communities, birch and European and dwarf gorse. Chailey Common escaped the 18th Century Enclosure Acts and due to its common land status has remained undeveloped and unimproved. Years of grazing and cutting bracken by commoners resulted in an open lowland heath habitat. During both World Wars, Chailey Common was used for tank training and military manoeuvres. This has left many landscape features, some of which have become important micro-habitats in themselves, as well as being of historical significance. The history of military activity on the Commons has been documented by Chailey Commons Society here. The Society has also documented the result of a metal detector survey on Romany Ridge here. The Ranger provides an annual report for the Society. See the 2016 report here.
Since 1989, practical management has increased and is aimed at encouraging heath species. In 1991, grazing was introduced with the aid of a Countryside Stewardship Scheme from the Countryside Commission which increased the finances available for habitat management. Many individuals and organisations have responsibilities and obligations towards the Chailey Common Local Nature Reserve which makes its management a complicated issue. The Nature Reserve Management Committee, previously responsible for ensuring that appropriate management was carried out with the aid of ESCC Countryside Management Service, has now been replaced with a new owners' group constituted by representatives from the Parish Council, North Common Freeholders, Chailey Commons Society and the Sussex Wildlife Trust. See also the chapter on Chailey Common in 'Sussex Wildlife' by Dr Tony Whitbread - published by Snake River Press (2008) ISBN 978-1-906022-09-9.