Battle to save Chichester Harbour: Why the vital saltmarsh is shrinking by three football pitches every year and what can be done to save it

Chichester Harbour is losing an area of saltmarsh the size of three football pitches each year and at this rate will have lost it all by the middle of next century.

This is the warning from Nicky Horter, Administrator of the Chichester Harbour Trust which has celebrated its 20th anniversary by launching a £1.5m Fighting Fund to save this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – one of the most important landscapes of its type on the planet.

Speaking to supporters and trustees, Nicky said: “The challenges and threats facing Chichester Harbour have never been greater.

“The Natural England report published last year on the condition of Chichester Harbour SSSI shows that overall it is ‘unfavourably declining’. We have lost over half our saltmarsh since recording started in 1946.

Fighting fund is launched to protect Chichester Harbour. l-r Nigel Atkinson, Lord Lieutenant of Hampshire, Nicky Horter and John Nelson from Chichester Harbour Trust, Dame Susan Pyper, Lord Lieutenant of West Sussex, and the Duchess of Norfolk.

"The mudland is covered in green weed, and bird populations are struggling, with many species in decline.

“Due to a combination of natural and man-made causes, the sea level rise pushing up against hard defences is causing coastal squeeze, with habitats having nowhere to roll back to.

“The nitrification of the tidal waters from farming practices, and from sewage discharges, is causing a proliferation of green algae smothering the mudflats and making it hard for birds to feed.

“The relentless pressure from development in the two local plans, which between them have to find land for 20,000 houses in the area is leading to the concreting over of the corridor between Chichester and Havant, cutting off the Harbour from the South Downs – vital both scenically and for wildlife. The addition of extra housing is putting recreational pressure on the visiting bird species, affecting their breeding and migration success.”

But she said it was not all ‘doom and gloom.’

“We have shown that being vocal about protecting the harbour is having an impact – politically, with the water companies and hopefully with our local authorities as they develop their plans. Keep being loud!

“There are opportunities too. We need to make more space for nature – we need to find land for habitat creation schemes, to create new saltmarsh, with a key role for the Trust working together with partners to make this happen.”

The money raised for the Fighting Fund will be used to purchase land.

John Nelson CBE DL Chairman of the Trust said: “We have so much to celebrate in our 20 years and have come a long way since we started out in 2002 – but we recognise the challenges that the Harbour is facing, as never before, and are fully equipped to embrace them.

“We need to increase our fire-power; a significant capital fund will put us in a much stronger position to be able to purchase land when it comes to market.”

Dame Susan Pyper, in one of her final engagements as HM Lord-Lieutenant of West Sussex said: “It has been a great pleasure to act as Patron for such a passionate and proactive charity that is so wholeheartedly dedicated to protecting Chichester Harbour for all, and I wish it every success for the next 20 years – and beyond.”