Cash boost will unlock history of the Downs

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THE woods are thick, dense and look like they have been there forever. Or have they?

That’s the question being asked by archaeologists as a project begins to unravel the hidden history of woodland across the South Downs.

The project, called The Secret of the High Woods, is being funded by a grant of almost £662,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Rebecca Bennett, who manages the Secrets of the High Woods project, said: ‘This is a unique opportunity to help unlock the secrets underneath these ancient woods.

‘There are a few archive aerial photographs of this area capturing a tantalising glimpse of features revealed by felling during the Second World War, but there is so much we don’t know about the history of the people who’ve lived here over 6,000 years.’

The large area being investigated stretches from the A3 at Waterlooville and across to the River Arun at Arundel, in West Sussex.

Sophisticated laser technology is being used to map the area.

A plane flew over the area and, using the airborne laser, created a 3D map showing all the ‘lumps and bumps’ under the trees.

The same technology was recently used to uncover the remains of a huge city at Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Evidence has already been found of farms and Roman settlement.

Local archaeologists and community groups will be going out to investigate the sites further.

Joanna Glyde, from South Downs National Park, said: ‘While the South Downs is famous for Iron and Bronze Age monuments such as Cissbury Ring and Winchester Hill, a large part of the central areas of the national park lie under forests or woodland, meaning that almost nothing is known about their ancient history.

‘You see this woodland and you think it’s been woodland forever.

‘We call it ancient woodland – but actually that means it’s been forested for about 400 years.’

An information event takes place at the South Downs Centre in Midhurst on November 8.

Go to southdowns.gov.uk/highwoods for more information.