Cuckmere Estuary

There has been a lot of disquiet in recent weeks about flooding in the Cuckmere valley and also the build-up of shingle within the river mouth.  See my previous post concerning the sad demise of the Cuckmere meanders area.

On Wednesday, November 5th I did go and view the river mouth and it looks quite different to how it used to be, that is, discharging directly straight out into Cuckmere Haven.  Now, it turns abruptly east and flows along for about a third of the length of the east beach as seen below.  It actually appears far more natural!

This has arisen due to a decision by the Environment Agency not to carry out further work on river maintenance south of the A259 unless there was a real threat to homes and businesses, so no maintenance of floodbanks, groynes or shingle dredging. It was understood that the EA did intend to maintain some existing structures after the above decision but what happened to ‘contingent evaluation’ – the value of a rural, landscape experience to visitors, high in my opinion for the meanders at the Seven Sisters Country Park.

This decision takes account of their limited budget due to government budget cuts and the inevitability of losing the fight against sea level change from global climatic processes. There is not the money to protect a relatively small amout of grazing land when many communities across the country are under real threat.  The river estuary if left to the forces of nature will change as pictured below, this being taken two years ago.

Within the last two days, an excavator has appeared on site presumably to clear out the original man-made channel and reduce the overall height of the river back up through the valley, this presumably being paid for by the local water catchment board?

Flooding to the north of the A259 (picture above) though not unconnected with the above is largely due to when the east riverbank was rebuilt during the 1960’s and the then East Sussex River Board coming under pressure from the local farmers to install the new sluices at a very low level.  (I was informed of this fact recently by a retired former senior ESRB drainage engineer). It means that the river-side flaps of the 4? sluices are unable to open because they’ve become buried by silt due to their low positioning.

Cuckmere Meanders Flooding.

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)

cc to the following:

BBC South East                  south.today@bbc.co.uk

Eastbourne Herald           laura.sonier@jpimedia.co.uk

The Argus                        editor@theargus.co.uk

The Guardian                  alan.evans@theguardian.com   and                                             natalie.hanman@theguardian.com

Sussex Express           sussex.express@jpress.co.uk

Eastbourne and Lewes respective MP’s.                                stephen.lloyd.mp@parliament.uk    maria.caulfield.mp@parliament.uk

 

Future of the Exmoor Pony Grazing Scheme

Ponies being released at Hastings Country Park.

Popular Exmoor ponies to be removed from Hastings Country Park by                    Andy Helmsley, ‘The Hastings Observer,’  Monday 05 August 2019.

The well-loved sight of Exmoor ponies at Hastings Country Park is coming to an end with the ponies being removed.  The Sussex Pony Grazing Conservation Trust who manages the ponies has told the council their organisation now has an uncertain future and they will no longer be able to manage the ponies.  As a result they are moving them to a different location.  The ponies have been grazing the slopes and glens of Hastings Country Park for the last six years.  Their conservation grazing habits have transformed Warren Glen from a bracken dominated habitat to one where native coastal grassland and heather now dominates.

Cllr Colin Fitzgerald said: “We are really sorry the Trust is taking to ponies away. They have been a great attraction for the public and they have done a fantastic job of recovering threatened and rare coastal habitats.  As a conservation tool, they have been invaluable in helping the council retain their green flag awards and receive a special award for conservation grazing from the Keep Britain Tidy Group.  However, we wish them well in their new home.  We will be contacting other organisations to see if we can bring another set of ponies to the reserve “

Exmoor ponies are particularly suited to the rugged terrain of Hastings Country Park and they have become a familiar and well-loved site at the Country Park.  Together with the Belted Galloway cattle they form the conservation grazing backbone for managing the rugged and inaccessible areas of Hastings Country Park.”

The background to this story is that once I had retired in 2017, the Trust’s small, voluntary, long-serving but wherried committee had served for far longer than they had expected to and were in a sense, burnt-out.  On the ground, there simply wasn’t the continuing level of commitment or mental drive that I had as founder, this not being helped by a general failing to continue to engender in the Lookers (volunteers) a feeling of involvement and not using their co-operation with sharing some of the practical elements of the fencing and gathering-in work that was required.  Additional practical concerns were, a small vociferous section of the dog-walking fraternity on Eastbourne’s coastal downland objecting to the essential temporary electric fencing.  Another factor has been the increasing storminess of our weather due to climate change, increasing the struggle to maintain this fencing in a stock-proof condition during stormy weather thus ensuring that the ponies didn’t break-out and put themselves and possibly motorists, at risk.

The current position of play at present is that the Sussex Pony Grazing & Conservation Trust will announce its formal winding-up by the coming autumn and nearly all the remaining 65 ponies being split three ways – 22 having already been purchased by farmer Duncan Ellis for use on the chalk downland of the Folkington Estate which they tenant and along the Firle Escarpment SSSI Continue reading

Common Butterwort

Despite its English name of Common Butterwort this plant is rare in southern England, indeed, this tiny colony is the only colony in East Sussex.  After a while today hunting within the Ashdown Forest SSSI we eventually re-discovered it again.  Still only six plants – the same as four years ago but, all these tiny plants in flower or are about to.

Ash Dieback Predicted to Cost £15B in Britain

by Hollie Anderson, PR Officer & Celebrity Liaison, The Woodland Trust.

May 6 2019.

Wilting leaves on an Ash tree.

A team of researchers from the University of Oxford, Fera Science, Sylva Foundation and the Woodland Trust has calculated the true economic cost of ash dieback in Britain which are staggering:

  • The total cost of ash dieback to the UK is estimated to be £15 billion.
  • Half of this (£7 billion) will be over the next 10 years.
  • The total cost is 50 times larger than the annual value of trade in live plants to and from Britain, which is the most important route by which invasive plant diseases enter the country.
  • There are 47 other known tree pests and diseases that could arrive in Britain and which may cost an additional £1 billion or more.

The predicted costs arise from clearing up dead and dying trees and in lost benefits provided by trees, e.g. water and air purification and carbon sequestration.  The loss of these services is expected to be the biggest cost to society, while millions of ash trees also line Britain’s roads and urban areas and clearing up these dangerous trees will cost billions of pounds.

Dr Louise Hill, researcher at Plant Sciences at the University of Oxford and lead author of the study, said: “The numbers of invasive tree pests and diseases are increasing rapidly, and this is mostly driven by  human activities, such as trade in live plants and climate change.  Nobody has estimated the total cost of a tree disease before and we were quite shocked at the magnitude of the cost to society.  We estimate the total may be £15 billion – that’s a third more than the reported cost of the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in 2001. The consequences of tree diseases for people really haven’t been fully appreciated before now.”

Dr Nick Atkinson, senior conservation adviser for the Woodland Trust and co-author of the paper, said: “When ash dieback first entered the country, no one could have fully predicted the devastating impact it would have on our native habitats.  To see how this has also affected our economy speaks volumes for how important tree health is, and that it needs to be taken very seriously.  It is clear that to avoid further economic and ecological impacts, we need to invest more in plant bio-security measures. This includes better detection, interception and prevention of other pests and diseases entering the country. We need to learn from past mistakes and make sure our countryside avoids yet another blow.”

The scientists say that the total cost could be reduced by replanting lost ash trees with other native trees, but curing or halting the disease is not possible.  They advise that the government’s focus now has to be on preventing introductions of other non-native diseases to protect our remaining tree species.

Background.  Ash dieback is a fungal disease, originally from Asia, which is lethal to Europe’s native ash trees. It was first found in Britain in 2012 and is thought to have been brought to the UK years earlier on infected imported ash trees. It is expected to kill 95-99% of ash trees in Britain.

UK Will Miss Almost All 2020 Wildlife Targets.

Link

UK Will Miss Almost All 2020 Wildlife Targets

 

Damian Carrington & Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, March 23 2019. Abridged.

The UK will miss almost all the 2020 nature targets it signed up to a decade ago, according to a report by the government’s official advisers. The nation is failing to protect threatened species; end the degradation of land; reduce agricultural pollution; and increase funding for green schemes, the assessment concludes. It also says the UK is not ending unsustainable fishing; stopping the arrival of invasive alien species; nor raising public awareness of the importance of biodiversity.

The targets were set in 2010 by the global Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the report from the joint nature conservation committee (JNCC) found insufficient progress was being made on 14 of the 19 targets.

The news came on the day Britain formally launched its bid to host the UN climate change conference in 2020, seeking to prove its green credentials are not tarnished and to show the disarray that has been caused by Brexit does not mean the UK has forfeited its right to be a major international player. Speaking at a launch event for the bid in Downing Street, the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said: “Most importantly of all, we are ambitious. If we are going to ensure that future generations do not pay a price for our prosperity today, we must collectively change our economies and societies. We believe this can be done and protecting the environment can go hand-in- hand with economic growth.”

Critics of the government said the report showed wildlife and natural habitats were in deep crisis. The UK is “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world”, according to a separate 2016 report, with continuing declines in species such as skylarks, hedgehogs, many insects including butterflies and corn marigolds.

“The JNCC report says nature in the UK is pretty bad, declining and not recovering, and that is in the context of an awful lot of rhetoric [from ministers] about being a world leader on the environment,” said Kate Jennings, the head of site conservation policy at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

The environment minister Thérèse Coffey said: “Nature matters. Our species and ecosystems are valued in their own right, but they also contribute to our well-being and economic prosperity. We acknowledge that in many areas there are ongoing declines in nature, but there are real points of progress on which we can build. Our 25 Year Environment Plan is a step-change in ambition.”

A key CBD target is to improve the conservation status of threatened species but the report says “there have been widespread and significant ongoing declines across many species”, such as farmland birds and pollinating insects. Another of the 2020 targets is to cut the rate of loss and degradation of natural habitats to “close to zero”. While the report says some places have improved, there have been “ongoing losses of natural and semi-natural habitat, for example through neglect or development”.

The target to cut fertiliser and other pollution to levels that do not harm biodiversity is being missed, the report says, with little reduction in sensitive habitats since 2010 and with 65% of inland and coastal waters remaining below target levels.    Only about half of fish stocks are sustainably caught, the report says, meaning the target to end overfishing will be missed.

Salt Marshes – Our Unsung Landscapes

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/feb/19/plantwatch-salt-marshes-are-the-unsung-heroes-saving-our-coastlines

Salt marshes are the unsung heroes saving our coastlines

Paul Simons, The Guardian, Tue 19 Feb 2019.

Salt marsh in Norfolk.

Salt marshes are not glamorous – muddy flats on coasts and estuaries, washed with seawater on the tides, where only specially adapted plants can survive in such a tough salty environment.  Although frequently ignored, salt marshes are unsung heroes. They help protect coastlines from storms, storm surges and erosion by creating a buffer between dry land and the sea, building up the height of the coast by trapping silt during floods and adding new soil from their decaying vegetation.

Less well known is that salt marshes lock away vast amounts of carbon by taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere through their plant leaves and storing it in the roots. And, when the plants die, the carbon becomes part of the soil. Salt marshes also provide a refuge for birds, fish and invertebrates; they provide clean water by filtering runoff, and they are low maintenance because they naturally self-repair.

But, in many places, salt marshes have been destroyed by drainage for land reclamation, coastal developments, sea walls, pollution and erosion. Globally, about 50% of salt marshes have been degraded and the rest remain under threat.

Schemes to restore salt marshes have proved successful, though, such as the Wallasea Island project in Essex, the largest scheme of its kind in Europe. Land that had been reclaimed for agriculture long ago has been turned back into wetland.

Agroecology – the Future of Food Production?

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/feb/20/european-farms-could-grow-green-and-still-be-able-to-feed-population

European farms could grow green and still be able to feed population.

Rebecca Smithers, The Guardian, Wed 20 Feb 2019.

Europe would still be able to feed its growing population even if it switched entirely to environmentally friendly approaches such as organic farming, according to a new report from a think-tank.

A week after research revealed a steep decline in global insect populations that has been linked to the use of pesticides, the study from European thinktank IDDRI claims such chemicals can be phased out and greenhouse gas emissions radically reduced in Europe through agroecological farming, while still producing enough nutritious food for an increasing population.

Agroecology takes into account natural ecosystems and uses local knowledge to plant crops that increase the sustainability of the farming system as a whole. The IDDRI study, entitled Ten Years for Agroecology, used modelling to examine the reduction in yields that would result from a transition to such an approach.

Reductions, the authors argue, could be mitigated by eliminating food-feed competition – reorienting diets towards plant-based proteins and pasture-fed livestock, and away from grain-fed white meat. More than half the EU’s cereals and oilseed crops are fed to animals. The study models a future in which European meat production has been cut by 40%, with the greatest reductions in grain-fed pork and poultry.

“Pesticide-hungry intensive production is not the only way to feed a growing population” said Rob Percival, the head of food policy at the Soil Association. “The Ten Years for Agroecology study shows that agroecological and organic farming can feed Europe a healthy diet, while responding to climate change, phasing out pesticides, and maintaining vital biodiversity.”

The study suggests that agroecology – using ecological principles first and chemicals last in agriculture – presents a credible way of feeding Europe by 2050. But it says action is needed now, with the next 10 years critical in engaging Europe in the transition. The agriculture bill now going through parliament in the UK makes no mention of agroecology, although an amendment drafted by a cross-party group of MPs proposed that farmers using the approach should receive some sort of payment.

Could flexitarianism save the planet?

“The idea of an entirely agroecological Europe is often considered unrealistic in terms of food security because agroecology sometimes means lower yields,” said Percival. “But this new research shows that by refocusing diets around plant-based proteins and pasture-fed livestock, a fully agroecological Europe is possible.”

The study is being published in parallel with the UK launch of the Eat-Lancet “planetary health diet”, which proposes a shift towards a more plant-based diet. The agroecology study addresses similar concerns, but places greater emphasis on farmland biodiversity.

Rewilding Making Strides Across Europe

Balkan chamois

Take a look at the following link concerning the Rewilding Europe organisation which was set up in 2011 to encourage rewilding in suitable areas across Europe, with much of the funding coming from the EU’s LIFE project.  Items in the attached link include: Rewilding of peatlands in Finland, making community forests in Portugal more wildlife friendly, the RSPB’s Wallasea Island project in Essex, the bio-diverse Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria (I have been there – fantastic!) and habitat restoration in the Oder Estuary in Germany.

https://rewildingeurope.com/category/news/