Below is the letter I sent off to the media and local MP’s this morning after making a visit yesterday. A sad state of affairs…
ENVIRONMENTAL DAMAGE at CUCKMERE, EAST SUSSEX.
© Jon Rigby/Eastbourne Herald.
People from across the country and abroad, travel to Exceat near Seaford to view the world famous Seven Sisters chalk cliffs and the majestic, winding meanders of the Cuckmere River set within a green baize, one of the best examples of a meandering river on the planet…
Well regarding the second point, not at the moment! Nine days ago the BBC’s South East Today ran an article concerning the flooding within the Cuckmere valley and the fact that the world famous meanders were no where to be seen, they literally submerged beneath ‘flood water from the recent heavy rains.’
On Wednesday, October 30th I visited the area, the meanders are barely discernible, they still being largely masked by flood water. I will digress here for a moment if I may. I worked on the Country Park through which the meanders wind, for twenty years including two short period of managing it. We would in those days monitor and finely adjust the height of the water level in the meanders. Over the following ten years I also had an input into managing the Country Park. The meanders have not been as high or surrounding meadows so completely flooded like they are at present, in living memory. So I do understand in minute detail how the drainage system there works.
Back to my visit… Upon inspection during the afternoon, there was a spring tide within the tidal river so its level was understandably high. On the landward side of the floodbank however, water was alarmingly racing through the metre diameter sluice from the tidal river and welling-up in the meanders as a large pool of angry, swirling water. Yes, the sluice instead of draining the meanders, was actually allowing seawater into the meanders! Somebody has at some point, tampered with the sluice by ‘obstructing’ one of the large cast-iron sluice flaps and very likely though not visible, also having ‘adjusted’ the sill of the sluice that controls the height of the meanders. A canoeist, vandals? Debris in unlikely. Where the water level had dropped away from its maximum height two weeks ago, the grass was brown and possibly has been killed. Tourists are going to be somewhat disappointed when coming to view the meanders, they winding through a large tract of brown dead grass!
Later in the afternoon I managed to speak with a local Environment Agency official who said that though they are not responsible in managing the meanders, they were aware of the problem and were monitoring the situation and when it becomes possible to gain access when the river levels drop, they will rectify the situation. They no longer carry out work on the river towards the sea because they only have sufficient funds to carry out essential works where flooding of the built environment may occur.
The meanders and the surrounding land are part of an extensive Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) designated by another government agency, Natural England. Damaging such areas is a criminal offence; however English Nature does not now have the staff or expertise nowadays to monitor and safeguard SSSI areas or enforce their protection, they now possessing too few staff. Flooding of the area containing the meanders with largely seawater has probably caused untold damage to the surrounding specie-rich grasslands, polluted and destroyed the rich biodiversity of neighbouring ponds and ditches – these also now unfit for watering of livestock. The meanders are now more salty than they would normally be, so affecting the life within them. The grazier of the Country Park will have temporarily lost a significant amount of his grazing pasture.
Funding cuts by successive Conservative governments have emasculated the above two important statutory agencies, one supposedly protecting us from pollution and rising sea levels, the other supposedly acting as guardian against damaging land management, short-sighted development of our diverse countryside and is now banned from criticising government policy. So the moral of this sad microcosm of a tale with the approach of a General Election is, if you value our public services, value your countryside and its wildlife, then whatever you do, oppose the Conservative Party! Regarding Brexit, if enacted, we are likely to be saddled with lower environmental regulations than in Europe.
Monty Larkin (www.montylarkin.co.uk)
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