Flooding of area containing Cuckmere meanders has probably caused untold damage to grassland

Cuckmere River flooding (Photo by Jon Rigby) SUS-191021-140203008
Cuckmere River flooding (Photo by Jon Rigby) SUS-191021-140203008

From: Monty Larkin

Clyde Road, St Leonards

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! On Wednesday, October 30 I visited the area, the meanders are barely discernible, they still being largely masked by flood water. I worked on the Country Park through which the meanders wind, for 20 years including two short periods of managing it. We would in those days monitor and finely adjust the height of the water level in the meanders. Over the following 10 years I also had an input into managing the Country Park. So I do understand in minute detail how the drainage system there works.

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. A canoeist, vandals? Debris is 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 disappointed when coming to view the meanders, 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 it. 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. Flooding of the area containing the meanders with largely seawater has probably caused untold damage to the surrounding specie-rich grasslands. Funding cuts by successive governments have emasculated the above two statutory agencies, one supposedly protecting us from pollution and rising sea levels, the other supposedly a guardian against damaging land management, short-sighted development of our countryside and banned from criticising government policy.