Cuckmere Meanders Flooding.

Below is the letter I sent off to the media and local MP’s this morning after making a visit yesterday.  A sad state of affairs…



© Jon Rigby/Eastbourne Herald.

People from across the country and abroad, travel to Exceat near Seaford to view the world famous Seven Sisters chalk cliffs and the majestic, winding meanders of the Cuckmere River set within a green baize, one of the best examples of a meandering river on the planet…

Well regarding the second point, not at the moment!  Nine days ago the BBC’s South East Today ran an article concerning the flooding within the Cuckmere valley and the fact that the world famous meanders were no where to be seen, they literally submerged beneath ‘flood water from the recent heavy rains.’

On Wednesday, October 30th I visited the area, the meanders are barely discernible, they still being largely masked by flood water.  I will digress here for a moment if I may.  I worked on the Country Park through which the meanders wind, for twenty years including two short period of managing it.  We would in those days monitor and finely adjust the height of the water level in the meanders.  Over the following ten years I also had an input into managing the Country Park.    The meanders have not been as high or surrounding meadows so completely flooded like they are at present, in living memory.  So I do understand in minute detail how the drainage system there works.

Back to my visit…  Upon inspection during the afternoon, there was a spring tide within the tidal river so its level was understandably high.  On the landward side of the floodbank however, water was alarmingly racing through the metre diameter sluice from the tidal river and welling-up in the meanders as a large pool of angry, swirling water.  Yes, the sluice instead of draining the meanders, was actually allowing seawater into the meanders!  Somebody has at some point, tampered with the sluice by ‘obstructing’ one of the large cast-iron sluice flaps and very likely though not visible, also having ‘adjusted’ the sill of the sluice that controls the height of the meanders.  A canoeist, vandals?  Debris in unlikely.  Where the water level had dropped away from its maximum height two weeks ago, the grass was brown and possibly has been killed.  Tourists are going to be somewhat disappointed when coming to view the meanders, they winding through a large tract of brown dead grass!

Later in the afternoon I managed to speak with a local Environment Agency official who said that though they are not responsible in managing the meanders, they were aware of the problem and were monitoring the situation and when it becomes possible to gain access when the river levels drop, they will rectify the situation.  They no longer carry out work on the river towards the sea because they only have sufficient funds to carry out essential works where flooding of the built environment may occur.

The meanders and the surrounding land are part of an extensive Site of Special  Scientific Interest (SSSI) designated by another government agency, Natural England.  Damaging such areas is a criminal offence; however English Nature does not now have the staff or expertise nowadays to monitor and safeguard SSSI areas or enforce their protection, they now possessing too few staff.  Flooding of the area containing the meanders with largely seawater has probably caused untold damage to the surrounding specie-rich grasslands, polluted and destroyed the rich biodiversity of neighbouring ponds and ditches – these also now unfit for watering of livestock.  The meanders are now more salty than they would normally be, so affecting the life within them.  The grazier of the Country Park will have temporarily lost a significant amount of his grazing pasture.

Funding cuts by successive Conservative governments have emasculated the above two important statutory agencies, one supposedly protecting us from pollution and rising sea levels, the other supposedly acting as guardian against damaging land management, short-sighted development of our diverse countryside and is now banned from criticising government policy.  So the moral of this sad microcosm of a tale with the approach of a General Election is, if you value our public services, value your countryside and its wildlife, then whatever you do, oppose the Conservative Party!  Regarding Brexit, if enacted, we are likely to be saddled with lower environmental regulations than in Europe.

Monty Larkin      (

cc to the following:

BBC South East        

Eastbourne Herald 

The Argus              

The Guardian           and                                   

Sussex Express 

Eastbourne and Lewes respective MP’s.                      


Gibbs Report – Proposed SE Rail Infrastructure Up-Grade

See also

The Gibb’s Report authored by Chris Gibb, was drawn up on behalf of the Dept of Transport over the last four months of 2016 has just been made public.  It’s principle aims were to look into the long-running industrial action on Southern and how the current infrastructure and train operations to the Sussex coast could be significantly improved.  If you are a railway anorak some of this report makes fascinating reading!  Below, I have listed some of the recommendations made in the report.  Time will tell as to how much of this well-qualified rail industry man’s suggestions will be accepted and taken forward!

  • Introduction of revised working practices, in particular the extension of Driver Only Operation on Southern and the introduction of On Board Supervisors on Southern and Thameslink.
  • Merger of three previously competing Train Operating Companies (TOC’s): Gatwick Express, Southern and Thameslink/Great Northern, creating the largest TOC in the UK (referred to as ‘GTR’).
  • Introduction of new Siemens Class 700 and Class 717 trains, with many elements of new technology, such as Automatic Train Operation with new depots at Three Bridges and Hornsey.
  • Regular transfer of older trains between GTR and other operators.
  • Introduction between now and 2018 of the new Thameslink infrastructure and service, increasing services from 12 up to 24 trains per peak hour through Central London, including transfer of routes between Southern, South Eastern Trains and Thameslink.
  • Major infrastructure enhancements at London Bridge / Blackfriars stations.

All of the above changes have been planned to happen between 2015 and 2018. It also makes recommendations over a longer period, again some of which I have listed below.

  • New fleets of more efficient, faster trains coming into service.
  • New signalling software to assist signallers to select best options to maintain time table.
  • Speeding up the arrival/departure of trains from stations.
  • Reduction of night trains on Brighton Main Line (BML) to allow more time for nigh-time maintenance leading to improved infrastructure reliability.
  • Major station upgrades at Gatwick Airport and London Victoria.
  • More platform shelters to protect passengers from the weather.
  • Reduction in number of services stopping at the likes of Southease, Newhaven Harbour, Bishopstone and Normans Bay to allow trains to keep to timetable/turnarounds.
  • A ‘firebreak’ during early afternoon consisting of a slight reduction of off-peak services to allow for disruptions during the morning, in order that the second rush-hour operates on time.
  • Suggested new ‘stabling’ facilities at West Worthing, Newhaven, St.Leonards and Crowborough and the local recruitment of drivers etc.
  • Electrification of the 25 miles from Hurst Green to Uckfield, preferably by an overhead power supply as opposed to a third live rail. This possibly carried out and maintained through collaboration with the French SNCF.  This would use refurbished ex-South Eastern rolling stock.
  • Replacement of the diesel trains on the London Bridge to Uckfield and Hastings (Brighton) to Ashford lines. By today’s criteria, these have poor emission standards.
  • Transfer of the Hastings to Ashford line to South Eastern trains.

News from ‘British Wildlife,’ April 2017

BATS.  Two interesting facts on long distance migration of bats have been made known.  In December 2013, a specie of Pipistrelle was found in northern Netherlands, having been ringed in Somerset some three years earlier.  The second involved one being trapped during October 2015 in East Sussex, it having been ringed as a sub-adult two months earlier in Latvia.  In its first year of life, this bat had made a journey of 1,460km over a period of some seven weeks.

COUNTRYSIDE STEWARDSHIP.  England’s agri-environment scheme is said to be a shambles.  With an inflexible start date of 1st January, some farmers are being left financially high and dry because their previous HLS Scheme ends after 1st January, they then being out of pocket for 11 months.  Complexity of CS and insufficient Natural England staff to administer the scheme are making matters worse.

PESTICIDES and GAMEBIRDS.  Work carried out in Sussex by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust have shown that foliar insecticides and insecticidal seed dressings are having a significant effect on the species of insect that are important food sources for young game birds.  No wonder many of our farmland bird species are struggling!

PESTICIDE BAN.  Meanwhile, perhaps France is showing the way forward, for there will be a total ban on pesticide use in public gardens, parks and forests.  As from 2019, this ban will be extended to prohibit use in private gardens (apart from use by professionals).  This seems a good idea when seeing the amount shelf space devoted to pesticides in our garden centres (not to mention the stench coming from them).  Many people reach for their killer of choice without a clue of the environmental damage some of these concoctions can have!

NITROGEN.  The Plant Link UK network has issued a new report, ‘We Need To Talk About Nitrogen…’ and it has the backing of the National Trust, Woodland Trust and the RSPB.  It highlights the serious damage that nitrogen deposition is having upon the UK’s semi-natural habitats and wildlife.  I’ve been banging on about this problem for years, one which partially instigated my setting-up in the 1990’s of conservation grazing by ponies in Sussex.

Prof Mark Sutton from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology has been appointed Chair of the International Nitrogen Initiative.  Prof Sutton said that ‘in the EU alone, the fertilizer value of nitrogen losses from agriculture is around 14 billion Euros per year, equivalent to losing 25% of the European Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget (or 10% of the entire EU budget) up in smoke or down the drain.’

DEFRA DEFICIENT.  There’s a widespread feeling in Westminster that DEFRA will not be up to the job of sorting out the huge amount of environmental law and new agricultural regulation following Brexit.  Since 2006 the department has lost 2,285 members from its core staff. It has also suffered from crippling and on-going cuts to its budget.  Put in context, currently the Civil Service is leaner than it has been since the Second World War and simply does not have the capacity to deal with the gargantuan task of leaving the EU.

Week Ending June 18th.

Well, what ever happened to flaming June?

Have been charmed lately by three pairs of ‘tame’ wood pigeons that seem to think they have a right to keep dropping into my small garden despite there being often being two cats about.  Actually, they perform a very good service in that they mop-up the dropped seed from to suspended bird feeders, so reducing the risk of rats etc.  (When I lived in Hartfield, a family of badgers were often attracted by the dropped seed and therefore created a ‘no-planting’ zone in that area of the garden!).

During the evenings particularly of late, these pigeons spend a lot of time in a nearby ash tree browsing on the younger leaves towards/at the top of the tree.  I have not witnessed that before.

In the Ashdown Forest SSSI area, I have for a number of years been keeping an eye on a small colony of butterwort – eight plants within an area little bigger that the laptop I’m writing this on.  This year, one plant has two flower spikes on it; image attached.  These tiny plants are insectivorous and are rare in southern England, they only being found in wet conditions on acid soils.P1000097

National Parks – the Government’s New Plan for Their Future??

The Government has just published its new strategy for England’s National Parks (with mentions for their poor relations, the important AONB’s (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty)). It seems to dwell heavily upon increasing footfall from home and abroad; increasing business opportunities and the production and selling of top-end food stuffs.  All very well to a degree but much of this I would suggest is going further down the road of commercialisation and I personally fear that if all this report is implemented in full, it could ‘kill the goose/geese that lays the golden egg/s.’  In other words, protecting biodiversity seems to be left sitting, largely overlooked on the back seat!

The full report can be read on the following link.

Having been involved in wildlife and landscape conservation for most of my working life (a period of some 40 years), some of the report’s targets concern me about the future of these ‘jewels in the crown’ of the British landscape. This is the same Government which has slashed and continues to slash funding for environmental work in this country, though I hear that National Parks (NP’s) are currently ring-fenced for four years.  Much of the government and local authority staff expertise has been shed in these cuts and I would say the matters are now at a fairly low ebb from the zenith of landscape/wildlife protection back in the 1990’s and early 2000’s.

The following are some my comments upon reading through the report; I am only commenting with regard to the situation here in Sussex:

*Good to read the aim of using NP’s as a health resource to improve the well-being of people and hopefully reduce pressure on NHS services.

*A stated aim is for ‘Britain to have the best natural environment anywhere in the world.’  This is quite a tall order in view of the devastation caused over the past half century by modern farming practices and development and the increasing lack of protection offered by this Government.

*Good to read of a proposed initiative to increase the number of young people receiving an introduction to the wonders of the natural environment.  However schools will require additional resources.  Sadly, there is no mention of this initiative applying to AONB’s?

*The report waxes lyrical about these ‘amazing natural assets.’  Yet the South Downs NP failed upon being set up, to continue the work of protecting one of the real gems of the eastern South Downs, the largest population of mature English elms in the world.  Forty years of work and expenditure have been allowed to whither.  Mature, rural elms have now almost disappeared leading to their nemesis, Dutch Elm Disease (DED), potentially now on the cusp of devastating the magnificent urban elm populations within Brighton and Eastbourne.  As I sit here writing,there are still specie-rich areas of chalk grassland that are being swallowed-up by scrub invasion, with other areas crying out for sustained management to protect them.

*The report wants to see an increase of 10% on the current 90 million home and overseas visitors visiting the NP’s.  One of the claims made some 10 years ago to appease opponents during the lead-in to the creation of the SDNP, was that there would not be any significant increase in footfall.  At peak times – sunny winter days, bank holidays and during the now longer the holiday season, sees increasing footpath erosion surrounding the hotspots and the road system frequently congested to the point of gridlock during peak times.

*The SDNP upon its creation, failed to take on the maintenance of the extensive footpath network upon the Downs which had previously received substantial additional monies and works during the previous twenty years, only for this to be handed backed to a resource-starved East Sussex CC.  If they want more people to explore the area there is a requirement for a well-maintained and well-signposted path network.




Vegetation Response to the Reintroduction of Grazing on English Mire and Wet Heath

Groome G.M. & Shaw P. (2015) Vegetation response to the reintroduction of cattle grazing on an English lowland valley mire and wet heath. Conservation Evidence, 12, 33-39


We report the results of a nine year study of the effects of restoring low-intensity cattle grazing on the post-fire recovery of vegetation on the lowland valley mire and wet heath of Folly Bog, Surrey, UK. Four distinct vegetation communities were studied, with repeated recording of quadrats (n = 652) inside and outside grazing exclosures.

Species richness increased across the valley mire, largely as a result of grazing-induced decreases in purple moor-grass Molinia caerulea and litter and increases in bare ground. Uncompetitive liverworts and waterlogging tolerant graminoids were particularly favoured. Purple moor-grass and litter removal also encouraged the spread of bog-mosses Sphagnum spp., although trampling in the wettest vegetation resulted in locally severe damage to the moss layer. On the firmer substrates of the wet heath, there were no such deleterious trampling impacts. Here, both bog-moss cover and species richness increased significantly, largely due to suppression of shade-producing heather Calluna vulgaris and litter, and the maintenance of bare ground.

Our results reveal that the resumption of low intensity cattle grazing had many positive conservation benefits. However, site managers need to consider grazing on a site-by-site basis and retain flexibility to change stocking times and levels as conditions dictate. Other forms of management to supplement grazing will most likely continue to be required.

[The Exmoor ponies of the Sussex Pony Grazing & Conservation Trust are starting to gain similar results on a large heathland site in the Ashdown Forest area.]

Farmer Turns Down £275m Housing Deal to Protect Countryside

Planning system under fire after [Sussex] farmer turns down £275m housing deal to protect countryside

Dated 12 May 2015 by Olivia Midgley.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said farmers and landowners across the country were rejecting developers’ plans – and substantial amounts of cash – in order to protect the countryside

West Sussex farmer Robert Worsley rebuffed the offer by Mayfield Market Towns, who have proposed to build 10,000 homes, along with an academy, primary schools and shops across 485 hectares (1,200 acres).

Mr Worsley, who farms the 222 ha (550 ac) site in Twineham, near the South Downs and his neighbours, who have refused similar offers, have become the latest community to fight back against countryside housing plans.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said more and more farmers and landowners across the country were rejecting developers’ plans – and substantial amounts of cash – in order to protect the countryside for future generations.  CPRE senior rural affairs campaigner Graeme Willis, said Mr Worsley should be commended for placing these considerations above financial incentives.

“It is invidious that so many landowners are put in this position by highly speculative land acquisition – especially where there is huge community opposition and no planning permission,” said Mr Willis, adding the case illustrated ‘the failures of our planning system in encouraging aggressive, speculative development’.

“The current developer-led planning system has significantly increased the regularity and pressure of speculative development – which is both divisive and distressing for communities. In its place, we need a plan-led system where the focus is on land that people want to see developed – like the brownfield sites around the country that can provide the space for one million new homes.”

CLA director of external affairs Shane Brennan echoed the comments, but said it was up to landowners to choose what to do with their land.  He added: “Development should be plan-led, balancing the needs of rural communities and making sure that the development that is needed goes in the right places.”

Arable farmer Robert Worsley, who bought the farm 15 years ago and grows wheat, barley, oats, oilseed rape, linseed and peas said his case highlighted the ‘hypocrisy’ in Britain’s planning system.

“The government tells us we have got localism, which means we have a say in planning issues. But in reality planning policy is dictated from on high, giving rise to the wealthy building lobby to come and drive a coach and horses through our land. And it is not local communities which benefit from these developments – it is the landowner and the developer,” he said.

“It is an easy source of economic activity and growth to sacrifice land in the South East and get cash to bolster the economy. It is like or worse than selling off the gold reserves during the Labour government. It could cause irreversible damage because once the land has gone, it has gone.”

Mr Worsley, whose land is one third permanent grassland under Entry Level Stewardship, said ‘urban sprawl’ was already affecting the South East and the area’s infrastructure was ‘saturated’.  There is a difference between the words ‘need’ and ‘demand’ when you are talking about housing,” he added.

“The answer is to regenerate areas in the North Midlands and the North East where they are crying out for developers’ money to rebuild communities where industries have been superseded.”

December 12th – A Wild Night & An Early Start

During the night, an Atlantic depression whipped up by the jet stream, swept across southern England accompanied by strong winds and heavy rain.  At 5am the Greenwich Light weather buoy some 20 miles off the Sussex coast recorded a maximum steady strength of the wind of 49 knots, that is, Storm Force 10 on the Beaufort Scale.  At 8am it recorded a minimum atmospheric pressure of 994 millibars.

Having heard during the night the wind at times roaring over the rooftop some 30 miles inland, I decided on making an early move, leaving the house at 6-30am, togged up in full waterproofs.  When having reached just half a mile from the coast at Birling Gap I encountered the full might of the angry weather just as daylight was breaking.  A squall accompanied by almost horizontal rain hit the truck and for the next 10 minutes, the view through the glass was reminiscent of a blizzard!

Once it had passed, I made my way around the mile of electric fencing securing loose fence stakes and also having to repair a long broken section, the plastic tape snaking away before the wind.  Next port of call was near the summit of Beachy Head some two miles to the east.  On the way, passed two large round bales of haylage laying in the road, blown by the severity of the wind from off a neighbouring slope.  After arriving, found a section of electric fence running down a steep downland spur, was stretched across the grassy slope like an abandoned washing line.  Later, the boys from Eastbourne Borough Council rectified this later in the morning.  In both cases, the ponies were taking shelter on lee slopes so did not make a bid for freedom!

Then it was on to Hastings to check the next herd of ponies, these however being within proper stock fencing.  All in a days work…

Our Vanishing Flowers.

Britainís wild flowers are in trouble… Ten species have become extinct in the 61-year reign of HM The Queen but even that stark loss hides the scale of the problem. Plantlife’s report ‘Our Vanishing Flora’ reveals the rate of loss of flowers from over 50 counties across England, Scotland and Wales, covering more than half of the British land area. To walk in those fields, woods and moors of 1952 would be an eye-opener for today’s young Britons; it would bring home to them the scale of natural beauty that has been lost through the lifetimes of their parents and grandparents. Britainís wild flowers are indeed in trouble.

Wild native flowers are being lost at a rate of up to nearly one species per year per county, and the rate of loss is accelerating with no sign of slowing. The figures probably understate the seriousness of the situation but they paint a disturbing picture – a picture with the colour draining from it. The reports league table of loss was created using county floras and rare plant registers, recent reports and expertsí personal knowledge and shows that we are losing species at an alarming rate all over Britain.

The county of Sussex fares particularly badly, being placed fourth in the table for loss of species, with a loss-rate calculated at 0.78 per year; in complete contrast, Wiltshire has a loss rate of 0.08. For further details see: