High Sheriff of West Sussex explores Chichester Harbour and find out why it is so special

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High Sheriff of West Sussex Dr Tim Fooks, in his weekly briefing on projects in the county, explores Chichester Harbour, a place where he has enjoyed sailing for decades, and meets the chairman of Chichester Harbour Trust.

The extraordinary geological diversity of West Sussex has gifted to us the South Downs National Park, two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and 24 sites of special scientific interest (SSSI). And in the south-western corner of the county there is, without a doubt, one of our greatest jewels: Chichester Harbour – designated both an AONB and SSSI in its own right.

Covering 7,400 hectares (10,000 football pitches), Chichester Harbour AONB is one of the few remaining undeveloped coastal areas of southern Britain. With a tidal range of up to five metres, millions of litres of water flood and ebb through its narrow entrance twice a day, creating massive areas of food-rich channels, mudflats and saltings for thousands of birds, fish and an increasing number of seals.

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Humans find the harbour just as attractive, with multitudes flocking to it throughout the year, for boating, walking, fishing and to build sandcastles on one of the best beaches in the south east at West Wittering.

Bosham stands on a small peninsula between two tidal creeks at the eastern end of Chichester HarbourBosham stands on a small peninsula between two tidal creeks at the eastern end of Chichester Harbour
Bosham stands on a small peninsula between two tidal creeks at the eastern end of Chichester Harbour

More than 12,000 boats call the harbour their home port and the tricky tides that race over the Chichester Bar just off the entrance, and the distorting effect of the low-lying land on the wind, make for entertaining sailing - as I have discovered for myself over the past 40 years.

Ensuring that this natural masterpiece is able to support the needs of both nature and human leisure is the statutory duty of the Chichester Harbour Conservancy, which was created by an Act of Parliament in 1971 to conserve, maintain and improve the Harbour. It undertakes projects such as managing the navigation marks and moorings, maintaining the footpaths and helping visitors to learn about and value this special place.

But as we have learned so keenly this year, we are unwise to take the good things of life for granted and Chichester Harbour is no exception.

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From the sea, natural erosion, accelerated by climate change, is rapidly altering the much-loved sandy spit near the entrance, called East Head. And from the land, the requirements of an increasing population along the south coast are resulting in a significant erosion to the quality of the Harbour’s unique environment.

Chichester Harbour Trust chairman John Nelson and administrator Nicky Horter. Picture: Paul AdamsChichester Harbour Trust chairman John Nelson and administrator Nicky Horter. Picture: Paul Adams
Chichester Harbour Trust chairman John Nelson and administrator Nicky Horter. Picture: Paul Adams

It was therefore a great pleasure to be introduced recently to a registered charity that has been dedicated since 2002 to the protection of the Harbour as an AONB, the Chichester Harbour Trust.

It is an urgent task, as John Nelson CBE DL, who chairs the trust, explained to me when we met.

Natural England has recently published a report into the condition of Chichester Harbour SSSI and it paints a bleak picture,” he said.

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“Eighty per cent of the area is now classed as ‘unfavourable declining’, reflecting the negative impacts of increased disturbance, nitrates and coastal housing squeeze.”

Sailing at Chalkdock Point, a headland within Chichester HarbourSailing at Chalkdock Point, a headland within Chichester Harbour
Sailing at Chalkdock Point, a headland within Chichester Harbour

To meet this challenge, John told me the trust is working in close partnership with the Conservancy, local authorities and the harbour’s village communities to protect the harbour by obtaining control of strategically important sites throughout the AONB.

Currently the charity protects 275 acres (110 hectares) on 13 sites, with names as evocative as the calls of the curlews on the harbour’s mudflats: Ellanore Spit, Apuldrum Meadow, Oyster Quay, Chidmore Pond, Itchenor Field and Sandy Point Lagoon.

To strengthen their influence, the trust needs our help, both to identify potential sites and fund their acquisition. And although Covid-19 has created many challenges for all charities, the successes of this trust to date have demonstrated it intimately understands the needs of this very special but fragile area of outstanding natural beauty and scientific interest and it certainly worthy of our support.

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For more information about the Chichester Harbour Trust, contact [email protected]

Sailing in Chichester ChannelSailing in Chichester Channel
Sailing in Chichester Channel

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