A campaign to raise £100 million has been launched to “renature” an area six times the size of the City of Westminster in the South Downs National Park.
The UK’s newest national park currently has a quarter of its land managed for nature such as woods, heaths, ponds and nature reserves.
But now the park authority is hoping to create and 13,000 hectares, the size of 21,000 football pitches, of habitat for plants and animals to thrive.
This extra land would bring 33% of land in the national park managed for nature which exceeds the UN-backed target of 30% by 2030 although the authority is aiming for 67% by the same date.
At the recent G7 summit, all members signed up to the global “30×30” initiative.
Ecologist Andrew Lee, who heads countryside policy and management for the national park, said: “The biodiversity crisis is real and it’s happening before our eyes, but the good news is it’s not too late to turn the tide of wildlife loss.
“Nature can thrive anywhere given the right support and we can all work together to make a real difference.
“Located in the busiest part of the UK in the South East, the South Downs National Park has a crucial role to play to lead nature recovery and be the hub of an interconnected ‘nature network’ for the entire region.
“Nature needs us now and we also need nature, perhaps now more than ever before in this post-pandemic world where green spaces have taken on a new level of importance.
“Apart from being incredibly beautiful and part of our shared appreciation for planet Earth, nature gives us everything – whether it be clean water, fresh air or food to eat.
“We’re launching this campaign without a moment to lose because it’s time for all of us to help nature to renature.”
The latest national State of Nature report showed that 41% of UK species studied have declined with 133 species assessed to have already been lost from British shores since 1500.
Around a quarter of the UK’s mammals could also be at risk of disappearing altogether with climate change, pollution and habitat loss being among the causing factors.
The biodiversity of the South Downs includes more than 20 species of butterfly along with 12 native reptile and amphibian species.
Mr Lee said: “The crux of this initiative is that we want nature everywhere for everyone.
“Nature recovery in the South Downs National Park is not one big ‘rewilding’ project, it will be achieved through lots of different projects, both large and small, that together will create nature recovery.
“Our goal will be achieved by working with our farmers, land managers, communities and local authorities, as well as other partners and environmental charities.
“It will include everything from hedgerow restoration, to planting thousands of trees, to the restoration of individual village ponds, to planting new wildflower corridors.
“Nature recovery is about a National Park that is better for wildlife and people, that will also restore, conserve and enhance the magnificent and varied landscapes that make the South Downs so special.”
To donate to the South Downs National Park Trust’s appeal visit https://southdowns.enthuse.com/HelpNatureReNature