The editorial in the Sussex Express hit the nail on the head in its criticism of the Environment Agency’s lack of policy for prevention of the flooding of the lower Cuckmere Valley.
Sadly this is the latest episode in a saga going back nearly 20 years, when in early 2003 the EA announced at a public meeting that it was progressively walking away from managing the lower Cuckmere valley.
At the time this provoked a furore and local resident Alan Edgar with funding from Nigel Newton, the owner of one of the Coastguard Cottages, produced a scheme which would have protected the valley from the inundations it has recently suffered.
Sadly this was then “kicked into touch” by the EA and some of the landowners, including East Sussex County Council, but not Seaford Town and Lewes District Councils, who supported it.
At the same time a “Shoreline Management Plan” produced for the coast of Sussex by the EA declared the Cuckmere Haven area to be not to be managed as “nobody lives there”.
At the time as a Lewes District Councillor, I argued against this but was over-ruled, despite pointing out that the EA policy for managing Seaford beach, an artificial creation to prevent the town flooding, was causing more shingle to be moved by longshore drift around Seaford Head and into the Haven.
In June 2011, a meeting held in Alfriston of interested parties voted by a clear majority that the lower Cuckmere Valley should be retained in its present form, with the meanders not active and the valley drained by the canal built by the Victorians to help prevent Alfriston and other communities from flooding.
Despite this the EA and a number of nature bodies, among them the Sussex Wildlife Trust and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, persisted in trying to change this policy to one of abandoning management policy, and letting the valley flood to create some kind of wetland wildlife reserve.
This would entail removing the canal walls, built up nearly two centuries ago before the A259 was created to link Seaford and Eastbourne, and allow the meanders to be remodelled by the tides, including the threat of erosion to the A259 embankment.
My present concern as someone who supported the Edgar scheme as a Lewes District Councillor, is that East Sussex County Council has now declared its intention to walk away from its ownership of the land around Exceat, and pass that over to – The Sussex Wildlife Trust!
Prior to the establishment of the EA the Cuckmere was regularly dredged, not just at the mouth but up to Alfriston to prevent flooding of the village and the satellite communities of Litlington and West Dean.
Those communities are now increasingly threatened by inundation as the undredged river rises, and the banks around it erode.
It’s time a plan is put in hand to revive management of the Cuckmere again, and stick with the landscape that countless millions of visitors, including tourists from around the world, flock to see year-round.