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: multi-disciplinary protected area planning and management; historic landscape research; research syntheses; landscape characterisation; landscape planning; landscape management; business strategy and project plan production; partnership development and management; grant-aid administration; grant-aid applications; recreation and tourism projects; land management projects and heritage interpretation.
Please note that most of us work part time and therefore we are a team of 6 full time equivalents.
Jason Lavender MSc
Co-Director (Job Share)
Jason Lavender grew up at Blackboys on the edge of the High Weald. Jason's work in the rural and environmental sectors had spanned both southern Africa and the UK before he joined the High Weald AONB Partnership in 2005 where, as Director (job share), he leads on national and regional partnerships and regenerative agriculture. Aside from his work for the High Weald Partnership and for more than 20 years, he has been a trustee for a private Trust that owns and manages 1,300 acres in Sussex and Kent. This includes an organic farm that Jason manages in collaboration with beef farmer Sam Newington and together they are in the process of moving from a conventional set stocking system to a regenerative holistic planned grazing system.
Sally Marsh MSc FLI
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 studied for 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.
Gerry Sherwin MSc FLI
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.
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.
Emma has worked in PR and Marketing for 11 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. She is also the main contact for the High Weald Walking Festival. 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).
Rachel Bennington MSc
Education Officer for High Weald Heroes
Rachel has 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 combines farming, science, business and woodland management experience to provide practical and focused advice that helps land managers to look after their land in ways that are sustainable ecologically, financially and socially. She is a life-long resident of the Weald and Downs landscape, which forms the background to her interest in the cultural history of the High Weald and provides the outlet for her keen interest in walking.
Land Management Project Officer
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.
Project Officer: Sussex Flow (Cuckmere & Combe)
Dean grew up in North Devon and has spent his entire career in nature conservation and sustainability. As a teenager he volunteered on a woodland nature reserve in Exmoor, and this inspired him to study Ecological Science at the University of Edinburgh.
He came to Sussex in 1988 to manage the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, which is how he came to develop a love for the High Weald landscape. He’s worked for several environmental organisations such as the Environment Agency, Kent Wildlife Trust, the RHS and the South East Rivers Trust, as well as for local authorities in sustainable development.
His special interest is in Natural Flood Management. After running a successful pilot in the Medway catchment, he is now bringing this approach to the Cuckmere and Combe Haven catchments. He hopes that a Natural Flood Management approach will not only help reduce the risk of people’s homes being flooded, but can also bring benefits for wildlife, farm businesses and the landscape.
Outside work he’s a keen guitarist and gardener.
Sarah Brotherton PhD
Landscape Officer (research, evidence, guidance)
Sarah grew up in Forest Row close to the iconic Ashdown Forest, and although she no longer lives within the High Weald, this distinct landscape will always be ‘home’. After spending several years travelling and working in New Zealand, Sarah came back to the UK and returned to education as a mature student, accomplishing a FdSc in Countryside Management and BSc in Ecology at University of Brighton. She then went on to complete a PhD researching the effects of extreme climate events on the survival and growth of wet grassland plant species. This research has led to a passion for wetland ecosystems.
Sarah has had various roles within ecology, including lecturing, where she loved getting her students out of the classroom and teaching plant identification, consultancy work and more recently post-doctoral research at University of Sussex on inland wetlands and sustainable offtake.