How Sussex’s wild past could help shape its future

Early holocene Deer

A University of Sussex scientist is hoping the exotic past of Britain’s countryside will inspire young people to think bigger and bolder about its future through stunning artwork and a classic playground game.

Dr Chris Sandom, a biology lecturer at the University of Sussex with an interest in rewilding, has teamed up with Brighton artist Daniel Locke for an eye-catching new exhibition they hope will inspire youngsters and landowners to rethink the possibilities for how the Sussex countryside could look.

The pair have recreated how the county looked 125,000 years ago in a new graphic short story and a card game, inspired by the childhood favourite Top Trumps, featuring some of the awe-inspiring beasts which previously roamed Sussex including the spotted hyeana, hippopotamus, and Eurasian lynx.

Through The Bush Backwards will go on display at the ONCA gallery for three days next week, with special opening events for young people and for landowners and policymakers to be held on Tuesday 17 July

Dr Sandom said: “When people look across the rolling fields of Sussex they might think that the scene stretching out before them has always been like that because it’s all they’ve remembered. But when you take a step back and see the landscape through the wider lens of more than 100,000 years ago, you can see that the nature around us is in constant flux and that the Sussex environment could host a very different landscape to the one we have now.

“We’re not proposing to bring back the cave lion or woolly mammoth to Sussex just yet but we want people to be alive to the possibilities of bringing back some native species such as the beaver as well as challenging them to consider whether we want a truly wild outdoors in Sussex rather than one that is dominated by the controlling hand of human influence.”

The project, a collaboration between the University of Sussex, Daniel Locke, Sussex Wildlife Trust and Rewilding Sussex, came about through a shared passion for finding and exploring new visions for our future. 

Included in the project is a workshop for 15 to 25-year-olds to be held at ONCA gallery in St George’s Place, Brighton, between noon and 4pm on Tuesday 17 July. Attendees will be among the first to get a glimpse of the graphic short story about Britain’s natural history, play the Top Trumps-inspired card game and help draw up a vision for Britain’s future nature. 

A launch event will be held later the same day from 6pm for landowners, policymakers and anyone with an interest in the future land use of the Sussex countryside where they will be taken on a journey through time to explore how Britain’s nature has changed over tens of thousands of years and how it could be restored. 

Helen Sida, a PhD student in Restoration Ecology at the University of Sussex who helped on the project, said: “Learning about the amazing animals that used to live here in Sussex, where we live now, has been so interesting.  Our landscape today may seem tame and unexciting in comparison but it actually has a lot of very interesting wildlife hidden away. How we treat our countryside has a big impact on the plants and animals that live there. 

"This workshop is a great opportunity for young people to learn about what used to be and is now on their doorstep.  We all need to appreciate that the choices we're making about how we use our countryside are shaping how it will be in the future. We hope this workshop will enable young people to consider how they want their landscape to look in the future and feel empowered to contribute to achieving that."

Betsy Brown, a University of Sussex masters student studying conservation, said: “Working on this project has really shown how exciting and wild landscapes don't have to be thousands of miles away in exotic countries, but that years ago Sussex would have boasted an amazing variety of animals and plants.

"It's this aspect that I most enjoyed about the community outreach programs, the comic, and rewilding as a whole. People are genuinely excited and hopeful about the future of conservation, when you show that it can be restored by using the past as a template, but also through people's vision of the future."

The artist Dan Locke said: “I’m incredibly proud of this project and excited to share it. Working with Chris and the University of Sussex has been totally fascinating."

For more information, or to sign up to the workshop, visit or to attend the opening event visit

By: Lynsey Ford
Last updated: Friday, 7 September 2018