It is with profound regret that I read of the plans by East Sussex County Council to walk away from the countryside sites it owns and currently has a responsibility to manage.
The council may or may not be successful in finding good partners to either manage the sites well, or to transfer ownership of the sites to. The council admits that it would save £100,000 over two years from disposing of the sites. This betrays a stunning lack of imagination, as these sites, if managed creatively, would surely bring in a lot more income for the council than it currently spends on maintenance.
In a time when councils are desperate to find new ways of raising revenue to fund core services, they should use their natural assets far more constructively than at present. Instead of seeing the wonderful countryside assets they own as a burden, they should see them as tremendous opportunities to make the East Sussex economy more prosperous by placing those sites – and all of East Sussex nature – at the very heart of the council’s economic thinking.
Putting more investment into nature would offer a handsome payback to the council in terms of income and reputation. Cornwall Council has an innovative Environmental Growth Strategy that East Sussex could learn from, and the emphasis placed on ecosystem services in the emerging Local Plan for the South Downs National Park creates opportunities for generating income from protecting, enhancing, and promoting countryside and wildlife sites, especially now that Brexit could lead to a genuinely environment-friendly agricultural policy being developed by the UK Government.
We in Eastbourne Friends of the Earth are willing to help East Sussex County Council with advice and suggestions about how countryside sites like the Seven Sisters could remain in the ownership of the council whilst at the same time becoming a source of increasing revenue for the council through new and better ways of managing the natural assets of those sites in partnership with conservation bodies such as the Sussex Wildlife Trust and the National Trust.
Some of our members are already working constructively with Eastbourne Borough Council – which wisely chose to keep the local downland in public ownership – to help it devise a strategy for its downland estate that would increase the revenue for the council whilst increasing biodiversity and public benefits too. No doubt many of your readers would also have knowledge and expertise to offer East Sussex County Council, which should offer a genuine consultation on how best to look after its countryside sites rather than try to offload them through deals made behind closed doors with the narrow-minded aim of saving a relatively small amount of money.
Co-ordinator, Eastbourne and District Friends of the Earth,
Rattle Road, Westham