THE South Downs could be a key economic driving force for the future prosperity of Hampshire and West Sussex, an influential report has revealed.
The first ever study into the state of the National Park reveals the economy of the park is worth £2.23bn annually – and more sustainable growth could come in the forestry, farming, tourism and recreation industries.
The South Downs National Park Authority, which took over the running of the 617-square-mile area last year, says the projected growth could benefit the 110,000 people living in the park, as well as the two million living nearby.
The park includes Petersfield and straddles many villages such as Wickham, Bishop’s Waltham and Clanfield.
The report reveals there are 11,500 businesses in the National Park, employing up to 84,000 people.
It is estimated 34,000 hectares of woodland could be managed for woodfuel – enough to heat 9,000 homes every year.
Chairwoman of the authority Margaret Paren said: ‘The National Park is a precious breathing space in this most crowded part of the country and provides vital services – such as clean water filtered through the chalk grassland, places where people can experience nature and improve their well-being, as well as food, for millions of people.
‘Looking after its natural assets is the best way to underpin a thriving local economy.
‘This report shows how the National Park has the potential to provide huge opportunities for communities, businesses, volunteers and visitors to benefit from this special area while looking after it by, for example, using its resources more sustainably.
‘The management plan, to be launched next year, will set out how we can start to realise that potential.’
The report shows that 1.2m people rely on drinking water from the National Park.