Sussex is home to some stunning wetland landscapes. We have coastal lowlands such as the grazing marshes at Pevensey levels and saltmarshes at Rye Harbour nature reserve. There are rare reedbeds at Filsham and spectacular marshlands such as Amberley Wildbrooks.
The County has a unique geology which creates very unusual wetlands. Chalk streams, wet heathlands, acid fens, ancient floodplain woodlands and sandstone gills are just a few of our rare wetland types. Sussex is host to nationally and internationally important populations of wetland species including the club-tailed dragonfly, great crested newts, the little whirlpool ramshorn snail, and wetland birds.
We have four internationally important wetland Ramsar sites in Sussex, four wetland Special Protection Areas for birds and two ‘water based’ Special Areas of Conservation. Only twenty of the 141 Sussex Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) are designated wetland SSSI’s, however almost all SSSI’s have wetland features of interest on them.
Sussex Rivers and Catchments
Sussex has unique and characterful rivers which run from their source to the sea, through distinct geological landscapes such as the High Weald and the South Downs chalk. The map above shows how rivers and streams run through Sussex like veins, giving life and character to our landscapes. Even in 2015 after decades of work to improve our rivers, it is estimated that less than 20% are in ‘Good Ecological Status’. A great deal of work needs to be done to help them become healthier and more natural.
How much wetland do we have?
Most of Sussex wetlands are fragmented and degraded and some are at risk of disappearing entirely. Estimates suggest at least 80% of Sussex wetlands have been damaged and destroyed. For more detailed information on the status and importance of wetlands in Sussex, see our State of Sussex Wetlands Report 2012.
Water engineering and management in the right place can be very useful. Man has used water to drive engines, power water mills, create iron, as transport and much more. But the human impact on Sussex wetlands over the centuries has not always been positive. People's livelihoods are being affected more and more frequently by surface water flash flooding from urban areas, hormones in our water, shortages of drinking water, rising water bills due to high water treatment costs, and sky rocketing costs of maintaining the man made alterations to our rivers.
Many river floodplains have been drained, river channels straightened, deepened and engineered, and rivers cut off from their natural floodplains. Abstraction, development, agriculture, pollution and more recently, drought and climate change have all taken their toll on Sussex rivers and wetlands. Many wildlife species historically associated with wetlands have suffered massive declines, including a number of significant wading birds, mammals and plants. For example, it is thought that Sussex water voles have declined by over 98% in 30 years, and that eel populations have declined by over 90% internationally.
Sussex Wildlife Trust is helping to deal with some of these complex wetland issues and to reverse some of the worst damage to our wetlands.The good news is that Sussex is around 384,000 ha in area, it has nearly 10,000 km of rivers, and naturally wet soils which cover nearly half of Sussex. This means that the County has the potential for a much larger area of natural wetlands than it currently hosts, if we can work together to make our wetland landscapes healthy.