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Saturday, 21 April 2012

Changing of The View

Think of the South Downs and one can guarantee the first image that springs to mind is the iconic view of the Seven Sisters' startlingly white chalk cliffs viewed from the Cuckmere River's outflow just east of Seaford.

 Things are changing though, with three projects in the pipeline that will all potentially change that view forever.

 In 2000,  the tidal Cuckmere flooded.  A combination of environmental factors created a perfect storm whereby the river could not escape to the sea and poured out into its ancient floodplain. Over the years man has tried to fight the river, fixing it's course, but within a few short days forgotten rivers flowed again, and the old floodplains were inundated, and while the Uck and the Ouse caused most of the damage, the Cuckmere blocks the major east-west route, the A27, at Sherman Bridge when it floods to this extent. 

The cost of maintaining the path of the Cuckmere at the estuary is £50,000 pa. Standing on the shoulder of Haven Brow it is clear to see where the river used to flow, with the cut-off meanders clearly visible and used for canoeing practice, while the tidal flood races down a narrow fixed channel. The decision has been taken to allow the river to run its natural course in this section of landscape, in the hope that if it can flood out at Cuckmere some of the pressure will be taken off higher up the river; and of course the Environment Agency will save a lot of money.

Secondly, there is a project to build a windfarm off the coast of Brighton. It'll be visible from all along the Seven Sisters, it appears will obstruct the view of the Sisters and Beachy Head from the West Sussex side of the bay that is formed by the Manhood Peninsula and Beachy Head itself. The farm itself is small, but the project has mapped up space for a significant increase in size. But what price a view? Even the Brighton Green MP supports the project, which will run an underground cable across the South Downs National Park to provide electricity to new homes in the northern part of the county. Of course, you can;t see the wind farm from here.

The company have seemingly tried to curry some favour by calling the windfarm 'Rampion', after Sussex's county flower. A nice ecologically sound name,  for a project who's benefits are questionable, both ecologically and environmentally. It is notable that Sussex is, at the time of writing, already in a state of drought, a situation that is only likely to become more frequent as climate change develops. I have yet to see a study or a suggestions  to how we are going to provide these new homes with water.

The third attack on this iconic view is Trinty House's decision to stop painting Beachy Head lighthouse in it's distinctive red and white stripes and to let it return to a granite grey. The argument is that with modern navigational aids shipping no longer needs the lighthouse to have its distinctive stripes. One could argue, tongue in cheek, that with these sophisticated aids that perhaps the entire lighthouse network could be withdrawn.

The stripes on the Lighthouse are as much part of the view, part of the experience as the chalk cliffs themselves. There's a cost of course, and a local campaign is trying to raise the money to have the lighthouse repainted, which will cost £45,000. The paint costing £20,000 has already been donated by a paint company, so just the cost of the work needs to be found. The Lighthouse needs painting every ten years, but Trinity House says it can no longer afford the £4,500 pa to carry out the work.

Whatever your feelings on each of the projects, the fact is that things are changing here on the South Downs, so much so that even iconic views aren't safe. While things are always changing due to natural influences, such as when Devil's Chimney collapsed in April 2001, we have three very different, but simultaneous attacks on what is surely one of Britain's most cherished views.

You can help the campaign to save the stripes here, and join with such luminaries as Julia Bradbury, Bill Bryson and Neil Oliver.

More about the Cuckmere Estuary Project can be found here http://www.sevensisters.org.uk/page82.html and here http://www.cuckmere.org.uk/

Finally, more about the Rampion windfarm, along with a map can be found here http://www.brighton-hove.gov.uk/index.cfm?request=b1159604 , here http://www.sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk/conservation/conservation/page00032.htm, and here are minutes from one of Eon's meeting regarding the wind farm.

Get on board with one of the projects, maybe sign up to walk round the lighthouse at low tide and help keep this iconic view iconic.

Click here  for a suggested walking route to get the best view of the Seven Sisters.

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