Sussex Wildlife Trust welcomes the court decision which has overturned the proposed reconstruction and extension of sea defences that threaten the internationally important chalk reef at Cuckmere Haven.
Sussex Wildlife Trust, with guidance from the Environmental Law Foundation, applied for a Judicial Review of the Planning Authority’s decision in February to approve the proposals. In response to our legal action South Downs National Park Authority and the Cuckmere Haven SOS organisation have agreed that there was a failure to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment, which is a required part of this type of decision-making process.
Our charity’s role is to stand up for nature and to ensure the protection of wildlife throughout the county and along its coastline. We must work together to prevent damage to natural habitats especially at a time when we are facing well-evidenced climate and nature crises.
The chalk coast along Cuckmere Haven and the Seven Sisters is of international environmental significance. The chalk reef, which can be seen at low tide, is considered to be the best example in south-east England and thousands of people enjoy its unusual wild beauty every year. The reef is teeming with life, including crabs, mussels and oysters and it is home to a beautiful and rare seahorse.
This chalk reef has very high levels of environmental legal protection. It is both within a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ). These designations are only given to the UK’s very finest examples of natural places and they provide significant legal protection to the habitats within them. Such places are the crown jewels of our natural heritage.
The proposal to develop new sea defences included covering this irreplaceable chalk habitat with concrete, and driving steel sheet piling down into the chalk. This would cause irreparable and permanent damage to as much as 200 square metres of this rare Sussex habitat.
We assessed the planning application against legislation and policy and found that the applicants had not carried out an Environmental Impact Assessment, or considered proper mitigation for the potential damage to wildlife this construction would cause.
In addition, this proposal is estimated to protect the cottages on the cliff above the haven for only 85 years. It would only provide temporary protection to the cottages, while causing permanent damage to this protected marine habitat.
We will now work closely with the South Downs National Park Authority to try to find an alternative solution, which will preserve the chalk reef for generations to come.
Tor Lawrence, Chief Executive of Sussex Wildlife Trust said “It is our role to stand up for wildlife, particularly in these times, when so much is being lost. If we allow concrete to be poured over such a precious wild area with such a high level of legal protection, it would set a worrying precedent and would have dangerous implications for the rest of our coastline and countryside. We must ensure that the right decisions are taken.
“We live in one of the most nature depleted countries in the world and it’s vital that we protect the nature that still remains.”
James Seymour, Area Manager Sussex & Kent Natural England said, “Natural England remains committed to working with all stakeholders, including the Coastguard Cottages owners to ensure a sustainable future, whereby, nature can flourish alongside people in this special place.”
Find out more about Cuckmere Marine Haven