Sustainability at the Museum

As part of our conservation aims at the Museum, we practice the traditional trades and crafts, along with showcasing the traditional ways of rural life in the time periods of our historic houses.

From rural farming techniques, beekeeping, providing for wildlife and maintaining our landscape. We also look at how we can run a heritage site whilst supporting our natural environment through sustainable practice and resources.

Photo Gallery

Rural farming

Since its inception in 1970 the Museum has kept a variety of livestock as part of its mission to interpret the historic working landscape and farming practices of the Weald and Downland regions of South East England.

We use the arable fields to the west of the Museum site to grow crops as part of our rural interpretation. The Museum uses our Percheron horses to work the land with traditional methods and no chemicals.

The crops grown are then used on site, with Triticale wheat which can be used for grain and thatching straw, barley for making beer in the Tudor Kitchen, oats for animal feed and an acre of cover crop to help re-nourish the soil and prevent soil degradation. The cover crop is often used as feed for our Southdown sheep, who graze and fertilise the ground at the same time. By rotating our crops over the arable fields, this allows for the field to have a rest period to sustain the important nutrients in the soil.

We have a selection of traditional farm animals, including the Southdown sheep that we keep to naturally maintain the landscape around the Museum. We also have chicken and geese, and when available pigs and cattle.


Bees are important to pollinate all flowers, fruit and crops. They are an important part of the ecosystem helping increase crop yields and benefitting wildflowers, seeds and berries that birds and wildlife rely on. They can fly up to three miles from the hive, so our bees not only help ourselves but also benefit our neighbouring farmers and villagers.

We have some beehives in the orchard at Bayleaf Farmstead, which is supported by our farming and livestock interpreter and a team of our volunteers. Our Volunteer Manager and co-ordinator have both undergone training and are representatives of the Chichester Beekeepers Association on behalf of the Museum.

Honey is harvested in mid to late summer and is on sale to guests when available, as it does vary in production with the variables of the weather and leaving enough food for the bees to survive the winter months.

Bird boxes and bug houses, bats

We have erected many nest boxes of different types to encourage smaller birds such as sparrows, blue tits, great tits, long tailed tits, robins and other smaller birds. In the summer of 2023 we added new bird boxes around the Museum as part of one of our children’s trails, having left them in place we have seen them in use by many bird varieties.

We do have bats nesting in some of our historic buildings, and we undertake surveys with the appropriate associations to make sure that we are protecting them on site when undertaking any conservation work on onsite.

Wildflower meadows

Here at the Museum we are committed to caring for our site in an environmentally friendly way as far as we possibly can. Our six historic gardens are managed in a traditional way and fertilised using dung and compost produced on site. Our meadows are managed for bio-diversity and the habitat supports bees, birds, mammals, butterflies and other invertebrate species.

We can play a vital role in protecting the ecosystem that the wildflower meadows support and this also gives us an opportunity to demonstrate to our visitors a very important part of our environmental heritage.

The wildflower meadow next to Poplar Cottage was created at the end of 2012, using the some of the wildflower turf, which had been specially grown for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games 2012. The 200 square metres of turf, a unique Olympic legacy, was donated thanks to a joint initiative between Hampshire-based Wildflower Turf Ltd and the Sussex-based Meadows Nectar Networks Initiative. The flowers and grasses used in the turf include yellow rattle, self-heal, bird’s-foot trefoil and crested dogs-tail, all of which are native to Sussex.

Woodland management and coppicing

The Museum undertakes an annual programme of woodland management which not only helps to maintain the Museum site and support the nature on site, but also to provide materials for the day to day demonstrations at the Museum.

All the wood that is coppiced on site is used at the Museum, either to create and mend fencing or to fuel the fires around the Museum. Some of our historic houses have fires burning in the winter months, much like our ancestors would use to heat their homes. We also have working exhibits on site which include our Newdigate Bakehouse and Winkhurst Tudor Kitchen, where we use bundles of wood (faggots) to light the ovens to bake bread in the bakehouse and other traditional meals in the tudor kitchen.

Modern buildings

The two modern buildings on site at the Museum, the Downland Gridshell and the Museum Gateway building, both have sustainability in mind.

The Downland Gridshell runs on minimal supplies of energy. Heat and power are used as necessary and only in rooms where required. Where people will be exerting themselves physically, the building will not provide unnecessary heat. Controlled natural light make artificial lighting during daylight hours redundant. Direct solar collection will pre-heat water, which is pumped through an underfloor heating system in the lower level. This floor heating strategy enables a direct thermal connection between the floor slab and the ground which will act as a heat sink, keeping the archival spaces thermally stable throughout the year. The only insulation materials used are at the upper zones of the external walls and the encasing ground.

The Gateway building was designed to be inspired by the natural landscape of the South Downs to resemble a traditional farmstead building cluster, with opening views and materials that are part of the collection. Over 60,000 hand-cleft chestnut shingles form the covering to both anchor buildings, which house the café and shop. The building also benefits from underfloor heating provided by its biomass boiler, along with solar panels on the roof to generate electricity. With large glass walls for windows and doors, the building has ample natural light.

Locally sourced produce

Wherever possible we use Fairtrade and locally sourced produce to ensure high quality food and beverages.

Our Museum shop looks to sell from local suppliers when possible, and if not available we look to seek out products that have been produced with sustainability in mind, with reduced packaging and as low a carbon footprint as possible. We endeavour to stock South coast and UK produced items when available. We have Museum branded hessian bags available, and only use paper bags in our gift shop.

Museum events and activities

To help support the natural landscape of the Museum within the South Downs National Park, and also to respect our neighbours in the surrounding villages at West Dean and Singleton, the Museum no longer provides large events with thousands of visitors descending on the site in one day. Not only did this have an adverse effect on the natural landscape at the Museum, it also created high volume wear and tear of our historic buildings that we aim to conserve.

When the Museum now hosts event days or weekends, we set capacities if we know the activities will be popular. This allows us to not only manage our car parking facilities, care of our collection and volume of visitors using our facilities on site, it also helps us to respect our neighbours by not causing unneeded traffic on local roads, which also contributes to wear and tear and local pollution.

As we develop this new approach to our interpretation and event days, we hope to spread our visitor numbers over the year to be able to manage and monitor any impacts on the Museum and the local environment and community.

Commercial sustainability around the Museum

We have gone paperless where possible within the Museum, converting to paperless reporting systems and online cloud based systems to reduce in printing off documentation for sharing within our teams.

Our membership cards have been changed to degradable plastic. As some might still get thrown away we thought it a better investment in degradable materials rather than recycled mix plastics so they will break down over time. Also our membership packs and contents are all made from recyclable materials, with uncoated paper.

In our café, we use compostable coffee cups and lids, so if they are thrown in the general waste they will compost in the rubbish over time. We only provide disposable cups to those not drinking in the café, along with cardboard boxes and wooden cutlery. Plastic cups are available in the café for drinking water, with recycling bins available. We also have a tap in the café where visitors can refill their own water bottles to use on site. All taps around the Museum offer drinking water so visitors can fill up their own reusable bottles whilst visiting the Museum.

We keep our food waste to a minimum in the café, with any compostable food waste being disposed of in the compost bin for use on site.

We endeavour to improve our commercial sustainability further around the Museum including electric car charging points. We are currently researching the most suitable options for our business and visitor use, whilst also keeping the natural landscape in mind with our choices.

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