North Downs - Agriculture and Industry

Agriculture and Industry

The landscape of the Downs has been greatly shaped by man. Deforestation has been an important activity that has taken place on the downs for centuries. Today, the woodland that remains largely exists where deforestation has been inhibited by steep slopes or the layer of clay with flints which is difficult to plough. Because of the many small farms that have survived on the downs, a network of narrow lanes and minor roads has developed. This has resulted in a landscape similar to that found in Normandy known as bocage. The predominant type of farming on the Downs is arable farming and this increased greatly during the twentieth century. Pastoral farming also occurs but to a lesser extent. Human settlements within the downs have generally formed in sheltered valleys and at the foot of scarp slope (known as spring line settlements). The Downs has in recent years seen the plantation of vineyards along the southern slopes, in particular the Denbies Wine Estate, Dorking, which is the largest vineyard in the country, accounting for 10% of the country's vines. The chalky soils make the area similar to the Champagne region.

There is plenty of evidence of chalk extraction on the Downs particularly along the scarp slope. Oil drilling at the foot of the downs occurs in several locations in Surrey. The Kent coalfield was established in the late 19th century after coal was found in 1890. Four collieries produced a successful output and lasted throughout the 20th century - Betteshanger, Snowdown, Tilmanstone and Chislet. The east to west ridge of the downs has provided a natural transport route for centuries. Much of the historic Pilgrims' Way still survives at the foot of the scarp slope and this has been joined much more recently by the M20 motorway. The scarp slope has also been used for fortification and many examples of this still exist such as Thurnham Castle and on Castle Hill, Folkestone Castle Hill near Folkestone.

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