Cuckmere talks success

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THE people of the Cuckmere Valley will be pleased with the main outcome of the ESCC Pathfinder Project, which was to maintain the existing (sea and river) defences at their current level and thereby ‘hold the line’ of the sea at Cuckmere Haven.

Further good news is that the third and fourth most popular options were not just to maintain but to raise the river banks to ensure that they could cope with medium to long term sea level rise … should this happen again. The three ‘defence’ options are all about preserving the Lower Cuckmere Valley in its current, iconic and much-loved form. That is as permanent pasture, grazed by cattle and sheep: and crucially keeping the meanders as they are (permanently full of water) – with the straight cut ensuring a fast flow of river water out to sea during the ‘flood risk’ winter season.

Cuckmere councillors attending the meeting were surprised that the second most popular option appeared to be Option C: Engineered reactivation of meanders and meandering creeks … because this is the complete opposite of maintaining the valley and meanders in their current condition. Perhaps there was confusion over the voting …? The score is especially strange, because the least popular option were the other two concepts for managed realignment of the sea defences and river.

Cuckmere councillors were also surprised that in spite of ‘defend the line’ being the community choice: the Plenary Session was steered towards a mixed conclusion of Option D and C, ie maintain the sea and river defences in the short term, whilst a further evaluation of completely removing these defences is then made. The community feedback to ESCC was clear: please maintain the river valley as it is. We are now waiting to have clarity on what intelligent and regular maintenance is going to be done, and who will be undertaking this at a reasonable cost. The cost of ‘intelligent maintenance’ should be the cheapest and most popular management solution. With some imagination this can be presented in a manner which should attract environmental funding support … but not to be anything like the costly scheme requirements for re-engineering the Cuckmere.

The Patherfinder Project into the future management of the lower Cuckmere Valley was sponsored by DEFRA at a cost of £249,000 and managed by ESCC. It has been an impressive project. However, some estimates are that the total consultation cost could have paid for proper sea and river maintenance for the next 15 to 20 years, so let’s hope that the Powers-that-Be, now listen to how the ‘people have spoken’. They should properly specify the maintenance, and get it done somewhat more efficiently and cheaply, than the Environment Agency.

Cllr Christine Ayers, Chairman, Cuckmere

Valley Parish Council