Medmerry, which is on the coast between Selsey and Bracklesham Bay, is at the forefront of highlighting how to manage coastal change.
Something which has been recognised by the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, taking place in Glasgow until November 12.
The RSPB nature reserve is being showcased in a film called ‘Coast: Nature-based solutions for climate biodiversity and people – lessons learned and stories from the ground’, alongside other examples such as the Central Mangrove Wetland in Cayman Islands, Shanghai Chongming Dongtan National Nature Reserve and Jiangsu Yancheng Yellow Sea World Heritage Site in China and the South Korean Yellow Sea Getbol World Heritage Site.
Each one is a successful example of habitat restoration of coastal wetlands.
Dr Carolyn Cobbold is the project leader for the Manhood Peninsula Partnership, a community, government agency, local authority partnership set up in 2001 to help prepare a long term strategy for the future of the Manhood Peninsula, which is south of Chichester.
She said: “I am thrilled that Medmerry has been included as one of four wetlands from around the world to be showcased at COP26.
“Medmerry was the largest coastal realignment scheme in Europe when it opened in 2013.
“Its creation and success demonstrates that vulnerable communities, wherever they are, can help make themselves more resilient to rising sea level, more intense rain and storms, and other climate change impacts, by working with nature rather than shutting it out.
“Chichester’s shoreline on the Manhood Peninsula is one of the south coast’s most vulnerable areas to flooding from the sea.
“It is also unique because it is the first scheme in the UK to be created by excavating a breach through a mobile shingle barrier.”
The COP26 event will be hosted by the RSPB and the Environment Agency.
The idea for the Medmerry project came from a workshop held in 1997 and organised by Carolyn and fellow local resident Renee Santema. The project was completed in 2013 at a cost of £28million.
Dr Cobbold said: “It is the largest open-coast scheme in Europe and is one of the most sustainable projects the Environment Agency has ever delivered.
“It provides 1,000 times better flood protection than the previous defence system and has delivered extensive new intertidal and freshwater habitat, including mudflat, saltmarsh and lagoon, compensating for habitat losses elsewhere across the Solent caused by coastal squeeze and development.”
The scheme has won dozens of engineering, environmental and community engagement awards after it was completed including the 2014 Prime Minister’s Better Public Building Award.
But there is still work to be done, Dr Cobbold says.
“Medmerry has shown that nature based solutions on a large scale can be the best response to rural low lying coastal areas,” she said.
“It is a strategy that local residents believe should be extended throughout the peninsula, further enhancing the peninsula’s biodiversity and environment and strengthening its booming green and outdoor tourism economy.
“For over 20 years the community has been working together to ensure that it is as best prepared as it can be, economically, environmentally and socially, for climate change.”
Volunteers from the Manhood Wildlife and Heritage Group and Flood Action Groups have helped to restore the peninsula’s ditches and ponds, improving wildlife habitat and drainage.
She added: “But the whole community is now urging Chichester District Council and local politicians to recognise the extreme vulnerability of the peninsula and the need for greater support for the community’s efforts to make itself more climate change resilient and to safeguard the future integrity and expansion of its wetlands.
“Medmerry put Chichester on the map as a proactive, climate change aware community.
“Now we need to build on that reputation and show the world that living on the edge can produce positive outcomes.
“Chichester District Council, by working closely with the local community and with organisations such as the Environment Agency, Natural England and Southern Water, can pilot the Manhood Peninsula and all the low-lying areas between Langstone and Pagham Harbours, as a coastal area which is prioritising a spatially planned nature based solution as the primary environmental and economic response to climate change.”
One way she says this can be achieved is in the council’s local plan, by ‘giving our communities the space and support to allow nature to help it best weather climate change’.
She added: “I am optimistic that the tide is now turning and that the folly of continuing as normal in low lying coastal areas such as ours has been recognised, at least by its residents.
“Let us all work together to show there is a better way forward.
The COP26 film will be followed by an expert Q&A panel discussion.
The event can be viewed live through the official COP26 YouTube channel youtube.com/watch?v=skbB5HxI6x0 from 10.30an until noon on Sunday, November 7.