PLANS to uncover the secret history of South Downs National Park have taken a step forward.
More than £46,000 has been awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop the initiative.
While the South Downs National Park is famous for Iron and Bronze Age monuments such as Cissbury Ring and Winchester Hill, a large area of its land lies under dense ancient forest.
The wildness of the area means that almost nothing is known about its ancient history and the people who may have lived there centuries ago.
The project, called In the High Wood, will survey the densely-wooded area between the River Arun in West Sussex and the A3 in Hampshire.
Anne Bone, who leads on cultural heritage at the South Downs National Park Authority, said: ‘There are a few aerial photographs of this area which open a tantalising window into the South Downs’ hidden past.
‘But there is so much that we don’t know about the history of the people who lived here and if we don’t know what’s there how can we protect it for the future?
‘The HLF development funding means that we can now start talking to communities about the part they can play a part in reconstructing the story of the people that have lived and worked here over the past 4,000 years.’
The funding will help develop plans and get local people involved before an application for a full grant to carry out the project is submitted in spring 2013.
In the High Woods will be a £1m project – of which the South Downs National Park Authority will fund up to £130,000.
Chichester District Council, West Sussex County Council and Hampshire County Council are all working together on the scheme.
Councillor Janet Duncton, who is in charge of planning at Chichester District Council, said: ‘We’re very excited to be working on this great project with the South Downs National Park.
‘The 304 square kilometres of land that we’re looking at is one of the last great untapped archaeological resources. It’s a great project that the community can really get involved with.’
Regional head of HLF Stuart McLeod said: ‘We look forward to receiving in due course the detailed application for this project that is designed to reveal new information about this nationally important, biodiverse landscape.’