SUP instructors learn value of River Adur’s Site of Special Scientific Interest

Paddle boarding instructors on the River Adur have been learning about conservation as part of a campaign to raise the profile of the West Sussex coast as a key watersports destination.

The aim is to encourage users of the Site of Special Scientific Interest to be environmentally-conscious paddlers and to champion the area as a place to visit.

The All On Board project has been designed by Coastal West Sussex to put the area on the map as an active water sports hub and grow water sports tourism, extend the season and help water sports businesses in the area to thrive, grow and create new jobs.

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To increase awareness of conservation on our waterways, and to encourage users to champion the very special RSPB Adur Estuary, a series of trips has been organised for paddle boarding coaches, with the first one taking place at the end of March.

Paddle boarding instructors on the River Adur for the All On Board course led by expert ornithologist Tony Benton

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Samantha Smithson project leader, said: “This increased interest in the great outdoors and the beauty of our natural coastal areas and riverways has led to more water users on our rivers and coast.

“We love that everyone wants to get on the water now but we also want to protect our local natural environments from the damage that such visits can potentially cause. I wanted to see what could be done to help raise awareness.

“Speaking with Laura Brook from the Sussex Wildlife Trust, it became clear that the wild saltmarsh and mudflats of the Adur Estuary in Shoreham are important habitats with valuable biodiversity, from fish nurseries to flocks of overwintering birds.

“The estuary is a designated SSSI () but it’s also very popular with a wide range of users, including paddlers and wingfoilers.

“By ensuring users of the estuary know how important it is for wildlife and how to look after it, we can minimise the potential impacts on this unique natural habitat. We decided that if we could engage and inspire local watersports businesses about conservation, they would be able to champion the estuary and its wildlife and spread the message to their customers.”

Coastal West Sussex covers 40 miles of coastline, with beautiful beaches, harbours, lakes, canals and rivers, and the stunning backdrop of the South Downs.

Since the pandemic began, there has been a massive surge in interest in outdoor activities such as walking, cycling and paddle sports in the area.

Samantha said: “We want to make sure that river paddlers can enjoy our beautiful wildlife and this is perfectly possible as long as we know how to paddle without impact.

“I am delighted that there was so much interest from local watersports businesses. Everyone is keen to learn how they can spread positive messages to the customers that they bring on river trips.”

Expert ornithologist Tony Benton from Shoreham District Ornithological Society volunteered to share his knowledge and three paddle trips were arranged.

He gave a guided tour of the River Adur at Shoreham from the comfort of a safety boat provided by Sussex Yacht Club.

Samantha admitted that before Tony’s guided tour, had had no idea the mudflats on the River Adur were such a major stopping point for migratory birds, and an opportunity for them to stock up on food energy.

When birds are disturbed, they take to the air and use up vital energy reserves. Keeping a distance and sitting down on the paddleboard while passing can be less threatening and save birds from unnecessary flight.

Sasha Chisholm, SUP instructor with Moxie Unleashed, said: “If we can teach our customers how to protect our river wildlife while they paddle, it will keep our rivers full of wildlife – it’s a win for wellbeing on all sides.”

Lucy Watson, from Adur Outdoor Activities Centre, said: “Tony was full of insightful information and give us some great resources including a bird identification sheet. This will be great for taking children out on the river. We had no idea that the mud was so special.”

Tony Price, from Brighton Kitesurf and SUP Academy, said: “It was really useful, and I feel more able to give my customers the right advice when paddling the river. We generally paddle only at high tide, which is less likely to cause impact as we don’t walk across the mud to launch.”

All on Board has produced a guide for river paddlers, ‘How to be an environmentally conscious paddler’, which will soon be available on the Experience West Sussex website.