We are a small, passionate team with specialist knowledge of the High Weald landscape and a strong belief in joint working at a national and local level to meet the needs of protected landscapes and their communities.
Since our establishment in 1992 we have worked collaboratively to produce the High Weald AONB Management Plan, develop an evidence base for AONB policy, guide decisions on the management of the area's special features, raise the area's profile and develop and deliver large-scale multi-disciplinary projects, such as the £3.3million Weald Forest Ridge Landscape Partnership Scheme.
The team offers expertise in:
- Multidisciplinary protected area planning and management
- Historic landscape research
- Research syntheses
- Landscape characterisation
- Landscape planning advice
- Landscape management advice
- Business strategy and project plan production
- Partnership development and management
- Grant-aid applications
- Recreation and tourism projects
- Land management projects
- Multimedia heritage interpretation and
- Website creation and maintenance.
Jason Lavender MSc
Co-Director (Job Share)
Jason's work in the environmental sector has spanned both Africa and the UK. Jason did his degree in Environmental Archaeology and then specialised in European Environmental Policy and Regulation for his masters. As Co-Director Jason leads on national and regional liaison and partnership programmes. Before joining the High Weald AONB Partnership a decade ago, Jason worked for the Environment Agency. Aside from his work for the High Weald Partnership, he plays an active part in many local, national and international organisations; Jason is a trustee of the Bellhurst Nature Conservation Trust, a member of the Sussex Cattle Society, the Centre for Alternative Technology and Survival International.
Sally Marsh MSc
Co-Director (Job Share)
Sally has been Co-Director of the High Weald AONB Partnership for over 20 years and leads on the AONB Management Plan and strategic vision. She has a degree in Environmental Biology from Liverpool University, an MSc in Landscape Ecology from London University and a post graduate diploma in Landscape Architecture. Her wide ranging policy and research experience includes integrated rural policy, sustainable communities and low carbon buildings, landscape characterisation and ancient woodlands. Sally's background includes restoration ecology and urban ecology having previously worked for Operation Groundwork in the North West, London Ecology Unit and rural conservation charities. She lives in the High Weald and away from work can be found canoeing or walking locally.
Rachel Bennington MSc
Education Officer for High Weald Heroes
Rachel has recently joined the High Weald AONB Partnership as Education Officer. She brings with her years of experience in educating children about the countryside they live in, whether this is in her work taking school groups around the Ashdown Forest or on her own company with projects that engage the whole community. With an MA in Drama Therapy which included looking at nature as a therapeutic space, Rachel is also a Forest School Practitioner and is excited about working with schools to tie the High Weald countryside into the curriculum and create a relationship between the children and their surroundings. Away from work Rachel can be found climbing and cycling throughout the High Weald countryside.
Land Management Project Officer
Christine is a long term resident of the Weald and Downs landscape with experience in the management and restoration of ancient woodlands and their associated wildlife. She has worked with a number of landowners in creating simple, viable landscape management projects. Using her business and consultancy background she is able to identify opportunities in landscape management that are truly sustainable in offering economic, social and environmental benefits. When not walking the landscape for recreation, she teaches yoga and climbs mountains.
Samantha Nicholas BA
Team Support Officer
After completing a Business Studies degree, Samantha spent 15 years working with Ford Motor Company. She then joined the High Weald AONB Partnership almost a decade ago as Team Support Officer. Specialising in event management as well as community project support Samantha enjoys working directly with the public. She is motivated by projects that successfully integrate societies with their landscape and work towards changing public perceptions of their environment. Samantha has been involved in the community her whole life and as well as enjoying dancing and gardening in her spare time, is an active member of Lamberhurst Pantomime Society.
Land Management Project Officer
Iain is currently working under a one year secondment (2 days a week) from the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew based at Wakehurst Botanic Garden, where he is the Conservation and Arboretum Manager. His responsibilities at Wakehurst include the management of the tree collections, nature reserves, SSSI and wider landscape. Starting his career at Wakehurst shortly before the Great Storm in 1987 he has a practical background and has been involved with the restoration of Wakehurst’s designed and natural landscapes. He has a particular interest in meadow landscapes and has created and restored species-rich grasslands, implemented a conservation grazing project and set up field trials to showcase meadow restoration techniques.
Matt Pitts BSc
Woodland Officer for the High Weald AONB Partnership, Matt Pitts specialises in local landscape history and land management. Following his degree at Winchester Matt worked in a range of countryside management roles for different organisations including Kent County Council, before joining the High Weald Partnership in 2009. Matt's expertise includes GIS, websites and multimedia production. He enjoys working with different people in all aspects of the countryside. His role builds on an already personal relationship with the area having grown up in the farming community. Outside of work Matt enjoys photography, as well as mountain biking throughout the High Weald countryside.
Gerry Sherwin MSc
AONB Business Manager
Gerry is the High Weald AONB Partnership's Business Manager and focuses on fundraising for, as well as managing multi-disciplinary projects that engage with communities across the area. Gerry is an Environmental Science graduate from the University of East Anglia and holds a Masters in Landscape Ecology, Design and Management from the University of London. She has 15 years' experience working as a Landscape Specialist for organisations that include the National Trust. This has given Gerry a wide range of skills in managing countryside sites and developing heritage interpretation strategies and projects. Gerry has walked from East to West across the High Weald in creating the High Weald Landscape Trail, and from North to South in undertaking river corridor surveys.
Claire Tester grew up in the central Sussex area and has worked in local government planning at district and county level in Hampshire and Sussex since 1990, including as the Head of Planning at Mid Sussex District Council from 2008-2016. She has an MSc in Town Planning and is a Member of the Royal Town Planning Institute. She is also qualified and has practised as a Parish Clerk, gaining a valuable insight to working at the grassroots of community planning.
Since the birth of neighbourhood planning in 2011, Claire has been a strong advocate of these plans as a means for communities to shape their own places. In the context of the High Weald she believes that neighbourhood plans provide an opportunity for communities to learn more about and connect with their places; appreciating how they have evolved over time and how they can grow in a sustainable way that conserves and enhances the character of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
In her spare time Claire runs her own business supporting neighbourhood planning and can be found walking the footpaths and bridleways of Sussex with her family.
Emma has worked in PR and Marketing for seven years and has extensive experience in media relations, copywriting, event management, and social media. Previous roles include the Corporate Communications team at national tourist board VisitEngland during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Emma worked on a range of projects including the first ever English Tourism Week, the launch of the country’s biggest ever domestic tourism marketing campaign ‘Holidays at Home are GREAT’, and ‘Growing Tourism Locally’ – a three-year marketing campaign supported by the government’s Regional Growth Fund. Emma now works with stakeholders across the AONB to promote both the High Weald itself and the inspiring projects that enhance and raise awareness of our nationally-important landscape. In her spare time, she enjoys walking through the Kent and Sussex countryside and exploring other spectacular landscapes around the world (Yosemite is a favourite).
Land Management Adviser
Ross has joined the High Weald AONB partnership from the National Trust, where he spent ten years as Senior Ranger at the 780-acre Scotney Castle and various other National Trust properties. He has a passion for encouraging and developing natural diversity through careful and innovative land management, with a particular interest in hedges and woodlands. After gaining a degree in Zoology, Ross travelled and worked in conservation roles all over the world – including a man-made wetland reserve in Australia – before returning to the South East to settle back where he grew up; the High Weald. Away from work he can be found walking the High Weald with his family and dogs, or building something.