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Sussex schools help preserve museum’s traditional roots

PUBLISHED: 10:34 04 March 2014 | UPDATED: 10:34 04 March 2014

Sowing bank

Sowing bank

Archant

An area of downland at the Museum is being restored as a wildflower meadow and will be planted with plant plugs by two local schools, The March C of E Primary School and West Dean C of E Primary School, on the 21 March.

The Wildflower Meadows at the Weald & Downland Open Air MuseumThe Wildflower Meadows at the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum

Richard Pailthorpe, Director of the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum, says: “This is very much a ‘hands-on’ activity to focus the importance of nurturing and protecting our environmental heritage and ecosystem to a future generation.”

The environment plays an important part of Museum life at the Weald & Downland Open Air Museum. Six historic gardens are managed in a traditional way and fertilised using dung and compost produced on site. Wildflower meadows are managed for bio-diversity and the habitat supports bees, birds, mammals, butterflies and other invertebrate species.

The Museum has teamed up with the Weald Meadows Partnership, the South Downs National Park Authority and the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew on this downland restoration project on the north-facing bank which lies between two traditional buildings on the Museum site. “Downland” can be defined as thin soils over chalk, with a high diversity of species. It is a landscape that has been created over generations through grazing and mowing, which is how we continue to manage it today to produce a crop of hay for our animal feed and grazing for our sheep.

The downland currently supports about 6 fine grasses and 13 wild flower species, but with a sustainable grassland management programme this will be enhanced.

The land was prepared over the autumn and winter months and on 21 March around 40 local primary school children will plant the seed plugs. We hope that by early summer the Museum will identify a larger number of both grass and flower species.

Located in the heart of the South Downs National Park, the award-winning Weald & Downland Open Air Museum has 50 historic building exhibits and is designated by the Government for the outstanding importance of its collections. Exhibits include a medieval farmstead; a working watermill producing wholemeal stoneground flour; exhibitions focusing on traditional building techniques and agriculture; historic gardens, farm livestock and a working Tudor kitchen. The Museum runs a well-established schools programme, and an award winning adult learning programme of courses in building conservation and rural crafts. There is a café which uses the Museum’s own flour and a shop with gifts and books on countryside and buildings themes. The modern Downland Gridshell houses the Museum’s building conservation centre and artefact collection; there is a daily tour at 1.30pm when the Museum is open and an appointments system for visits to the collections for research purposes.

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