Before 1974, income for Forest maintenance and byelaw enforcement was confined to rates levied on Commoners. The Ashdown Forest Act 1974 introduced external funding for the increasing costs of maintenance; East Sussex County Council (ESCC) were required to make up annual financial losses of the Conservators and were granted a controlling number of seats on the Board of Conservators. Purchase of the Forest by ESCC in 1988 was followed in the 1990's by the recognition of Conservation responsibilities. Increasing costs of management led to a shift away from the combined contribution of ESCC and Wealden District Council, firstly involving Countryside Stewardship Schemes (CSS) and culminating with the entry to Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) in 2006.
ESCC still provides a substantial proportion of the Forest budget. As the owner of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), The Ashdown Forest Trust has a duty to ensure sufficient funds are spent on lowland heath maintenance. Payments to the Board come partly from The Ashdown Forest Trust and partly from ESCC itself as well as Wealden District Council. Other income streams apart from HLS are small by comparison.
The recent Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) award for heathland restoration has been instrumental in returning large areas to 'unfavourable recovering' condition. Without these major funds, the large areas of open Forest you see today would not exist. The challenge now is to maintain these areas. HLS currently provides much needed funds for monitoring, capital expenditure such as stock fencing and encouraging public understanding. The condition of an SSSI is determined by reference to Conservation Objectives that cover such items as the extent of specific habitats and numbers of bird or butterfly species. Click here to see the management plan for lowland heathland.