By Tor Lawrence Chief Executive
and Henri Brocklebank Director of Conservation, Policy and Evidence
We welcomed the opportunity at the South Downs National Park Planning Committee today, to make the case for wildlife in this significant and complex application regarding the sea defences at the Coastguard Cottages. The planning process is a democratic process and Sussex Wildlife Trust’s primary role is to champion nature. Our coast supports rare and precious marine wildlife and as a nature conservation charity, we have considered this application solely from a wildlife/ecological perspective.
The proposed works would be within the Seaford to Beachy Head Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), which is designated for its biological and geological/geomorphological interest, and the Beachy Head West Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) which is noted as one of the best examples of chalk reef habitat in the south east. One of the main reasons for MCZ designation was the extensive intertidal wave cut chalk platforms and subtidal chalk ridges. Chalk reef is a fragile and unusual marine habitat which supports abundant wildlife, including threatened species such as blue mussel beds and native oysters. The site also contains rare short-snouted seahorses.
The chalk reef will be impacted directly through these works, by being covered with a concrete apron at the foot of the existing hard defence. In front of that, steel sheeting will be piled directly into the intertidal chalk. This will result in a direct loss of 84 and 204m2 of intertidal chalk. This will have unknown impacts to the animal and plant/algal communities that are supported by this habitat.
This is a nationally protected area, highly designated for its ecological importance. The proposed works will damage and destroy rare and irreplaceable chalk reef habitat. Such a loss, within a designated site that exists to protect the natural environment, is unacceptable from a wildlife perspective. The South Downs National Park’s own policies, as well as national planning policies do not support this type of impact.
At a time of ecological crisis, we look to our public bodies to restore nature and not perpetuate the permitted loss that has contributed to the UK’s depleted wildlife at land and at sea. Passionate representations were made by members of the planning committee on the need to make difficult decisions, brought about by the climate and ecological emergencies, but the overall decision in this case was to replace the defences.