The beauty and charm of East Sussex are not only discovered through its ancient Cinque ports, towns and pretty villages, its fascinating medieval history and its coastal beauty; it is also home to some of the country's most beautiful and important country parks and nature reserves.
From the eastern South Downs at Seven Sisters with its dramatic high cliffs and famous red and white Beachy Head lighthouse studded into the rocks, to the tranquil oasis of Rye Harbour Nature Reserve with its fascinating selection of wildlife habitats, you are taken on a journey of archaeological wonder and sustainability as you travel along one of the most glorious stretches of coast in the south.
So, pack your best walking boots and binoculars and head to the best country parks and nature reserves that East Sussex has to offer.
This simply stunning country park covers over 660 acres of sandstone cliffs, gorse-covered glens and muddy trails. Boasting quite possibly the most beautiful views in Sussex, stretching east past the Rye Nature Reserve and on towards the White Cliffs of Dover, and west towards Seven Sisters and Beachy Head, you can spend hours simply gazing out to sea. Spot the ferries travelling to and fro from Calais as you walk along the fossil-rich clifftops and settle back for a picnic on the great expanses of green at the Firehills in Fairlight or on one of the wooden benches dotted around the park.
This country park and local nature reserve is known as being the most prestigious area of biodiversity management and the largest area of public open space in the borough. The reserve doesn’t just include the country park but also the Hastings Cliffs Special Area of Conservation and the Hastings Cliffs to Pett Beach Site of Special Scientific Interest.
What can I see there?
- black redstarts
- bottlenose dolphins
- wild Exmoor ponies
The whole area is renowned as an area of archaeological importance and hugely important for wildlife conservation. An outstanding area for birdwatching with many species breeding throughout the various habitats, the cliffs are home to peregrines, black redstarts and fulmars with the gorse-covered hillsides homing Dartford warblers, stonechats and yellowhammers.
The area is also a popular habitat for dormice, stoats and weasels, and if you are lucky you may spot a bottlenose dolphin or harbour porpoise offshore from cliff-top watchpoints! As you walk around the area, keep an eye out for the wild Exmoor ponies and herd of Belted Galloway cattle introduced to the area to sustainably manage the glens and slopes.
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Voted Britain’s favourite nature reserve in 2016 in the third annual LandLove Magazine Awards, this hugely important conservation site is just 2 miles from the ancient Cinque Ports town of Rye. It has been recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest as well as a Special Protection Area for birds, a Special Area of Conservation and a Ramsar site, the latter taking into account its importance as a wetland on an international scale. Explore this spectacular reserve by bike or foot and bring the dog too!
Enjoy the 4,275 species of wildlife along the many miles of path, 300 of which are considered rare and endangered in Britain - the invertebrate list alone is huge with 3,164 species recorded from the site. Spend a weekend between the five birdwatching hides and see how many of our feathered friends you can spot, discovering their varied coastal habitats including shingle, saltmarsh, saline lagoons, coastal grazing marsh, freshwater gravel pits and reedbeds as you go.
What can I see there?
- Canada geese
- marsh frogs
- yellow horned-poppies
An excellent network of footpaths across the reserve can be accessed from points in the nearby town of Rye, as well as Winchelsea Beach and Rye Harbour.
With over 1,149 acres of flat and low-lying ground, the site is also of considerable historic interest with military fortifications from the 16th, 19th and 20th centuries. You can walk along to Winchelsea Beach, passing the 16th century Camber Castle, built by Henry VIII, continuing onto Cliff End at Pett Level, where the Military Canal, which will have accompanied you on your coastal walk, comes to an end.
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Situated in the glorious South Downs National Park, the Seven Sisters Country Park near Eastbourne is composed of 280 hectares of open chalk grassland, meandering river valley and chalky cliffs. Named after the spectacular Seven Sisters chalk cliffs which look over the English Channel and across to France, it is situated on one of the UK’s finest coastlines. Seven Sisters is near to the start of the eastern South Downs, which stretch above Brighton and Lewes and across into West Sussex, finishing at Winchester in Hampshire.
Down towards the coast from Seven Sisters you will find Cuckmere Haven, an area of flood plains where the River Cuckmere meets the English Channel. This peaceful riverfront beach and grasslands not only offers scenic views of the surrounding cliffs but is also pet-friendly. While the Seven Sisters park is a great dog-walking area, extreme care must be taken at cliff edges.
What can I see there?
- burnt orchids
- barn owls
- fallow deer
- greater mouse-eared bats
The South Downs National Park boasts 1,600 square kilometres of green rolling hills and farmland as well as ancient woodland and lowland heaths. It offers some fantastic walking and cycling, with carpets of patchwork fields wrapped around winding country lanes, not forgetting a country pub or two!
Paddleboarding and canoeing are on offer for water babies, with long meandering rivers leading out to sea. Nature lovers will be thrilled with both common and rare sightings on offer in the park and the more adventurous can do some geocaching to find their way around.
There is horse riding across many parts of the South Downs with over 100 miles of path, much of which is a bridleway - you really can see the park in any way you wish! Having become an International Dark Sky Reserve in 2016, the star-studded skies over the Downs are one of the most beautiful stargazing spots in the county, perfect for romantic weekenders.
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A much smaller country park at just under 18 acres in size, this former clay quarry has been regenerated and is now an impressive well-managed valley woodland.
Featuring young deciduous trees, two ponds and a winding stream running through a steep rocky gorge, there is a good pathway for tranquil country walks. An undulating circular stone track which meanders its way through the park, it will bring you close to a diverse variety of habitats, including dry and wet woodland, remnant ancient coppice, grassy and heath glades and rock outcrops. Head there in spring when the stream runs down to a blanket of bluebells and discover the nationally rare moss Discelium nudum. There is also a picnic area to sit back and enjoy the scenery on sunny days.
What can I see there?
- palmate newts
- peacock butterflies
- blue tits
Managed by the Woodland Trust and designated a Site of Nature Conservation Interest, there are lots of wildlife habitats to discover. Badgers and foxes make their home amongst the wet and dry woodland and peacock butterflies flutter their wings above the hawthorn and gorse. Palmate newts and common toads use the ponds, streams and fen, while the sandstone outcrops and eroding banks are the places to avoid if you don’t want to come across one of the grass snakes slithering across the rock! Due to the diversity of the various habitats, you can spot many different species of bird including chaffinches, wrens, sparrows, robins and goldfinches.
A short drive to the centre of Crowborough will find you in Bluebell Wood, a two-acre nature reserve. Look out for the wild daffodils and native bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scripta during their flowering season in April and May and take a walk around the 1km circular path under a canopy of mature oak woodland.
Also visit The Ghyll, a 42-acre local nature reserve principally made up of ancient semi-natural woodland with a steep-sided wooded valley expertly carved out by a stream. There is also some open ground, similar to the lowland heathland of the nearby Ashdown Forest (of Winnie the Pooh fame).
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This designated local nature reserve is set in 120 acres of beautiful landscape just below the South Downs and the Long Man of Wilmington. It is one of two reservoirs in the area that provide water to the South East, with water pumped from the River Cuckmere. Also classified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to the extensive conservation work to protect the habitats of several native species, it is a prized location for bird watching where visitors can follow the scenic Osprey Trail.
There is an easy 3.5-mile walk around the reservoir and through the nature reserve which is rewarded with views across to the South Downs as well as a shorter 2.5-mile option.
What can I see there?
- pied wagtail
- black swans
The site is of ornithological interest, with over 1% of the wintering wigeon being populated within the site. It is also home to a scrub of hawthorn known as Crataegus monogyna. If you want to see the population of cormorants who come to sit on the banks, head to the Osprey Bird hide on the northwest banks of the reservoir. You may see swallows, mallard, pied wagtail and rook amongst other species and Black Swans and sheep grazing in the surrounding water meadows.
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Explore everything East Sussex has to offer
Come and visit the country parks and nature reserves of East Sussex with a stay in one of our beautiful cottages in East Sussex. We have a wonderful selection of both seaside and country properties in and around Hastings, quaint fishermen's cottages in Rye Harbour and the nearby ancient town of Rye, as well as a selection of coastal cottages in Eastbourne and Pevensey Bay, perfect for visiting Seven Sisters and the South Downs.