(Above) © English Heritage
Worthing Council has backed down on a decision to cash in on 200 acres of archaeologically important land near the National Trust's Cissbury Ring after hundreds of local residents held a mass protest at the site.
The authority issued plans to sell the agricultural land at Tenants Hill and Mount Carvey, which sources believe to be worth up to £4 million, when the tenant farmer died last year.
But they were forced to backtrack when more than 300 people set off distress flares in a placard-led rally at the Ring under the direction of campaign group Stop the Cissbury Sell-Off.
"The strong and consistent views of residents have convinced us to move forward with the changes we had been considering, and we will now use long-term leases instead of selling the freeholds of our buildings and land," said Cabinet Member for Resources Steve Waight.
"If this policy is agreed by cabinet, one of the effects of that change would be to remove the Cissbury Downland from sale and seek a leasehold option."
The picturesque hills witnessed distress flares and banners during a protest by local groups
Cissbury Ring is the UK's second-largest Iron Age hill fort, built in 300 BC as a symbol of power and key defence stronghold.
Beach pebbles used as sling shots, Stone Age flint mines and hundreds of pits have been uncovered across the terrain. A breach in the hills housed a 100lb gun which fired at ships during World War II.
Protestors gave a cagey welcome to Waight’s response and warned that the proposed discussion on the scheme at a council meeting next Thursday (December 3) may not guarantee the future of the Ring.
"There was a very strong feeling amongst everyone that we cannot assume the council will do the right thing, despite the massive turnout today," said the campaign's Trevor Hodgson, speaking at the demonstration.
"They clearly hoped to sneak through the sale of the land without anyone noticing, and we are suspicious that this so-called review may turn out to be just a delaying tactic."
The Ring is the second-largest Iron Age hill fort in the country, behind Dorset's Maiden Castle
Steve Ankers, Planning Officer for environmental group the South Downs Society, said public access to the land was paramount.
"It is essential that this important site remains in public ownership," he argued. "We welcome the Council's review and urge them to call a permanent halt to the sale.
"Cissbury Ring can't survive properly on its own. People have long had the right to enjoy this key part of the Downs and that must be retained.
"The Council have access to grants and other support to help them manage the land for the purposes it was bought for and, it if was sold, it could end up being fenced off into unsightly paddocks with no access for the public."
The National Trust and the South Downs Joint Committee will be involved in negotiations for the future of the land.
"There are now a huge number of people actively involved in this campaign and the Council can be assured that we are not going away," added Hodgson.
"We will fight on until we are completely satisfied that this crucial piece of Worthing's environmental and historical heritage is fully protected and secure for generations to come."