2021 – the year of change for nature?
In the past year, perhaps more so than ever before, we have become aware of how important the Harbour is for our own emotional and physical wellbeing. Periods of national and local lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic have led to greater numbers of people discovering and enjoying the extraordinary environment of the Harbour with seemingly endless possibilities for recreation on and off the water. Pop-up coffee stops appeared at key locations to fuel our exploration. Our lives have been enriched by it, and it has changed the way that people see the Harbour, fostering a strong desire to protect it.
A recent Natural England study found that 46% of adults say they are now spending more time outside compared to before Covid-19, and 42% of adults feel that nature and wildlife is more important than ever to their wellbeing. But we need to translate this warm feeling into real change for nature.
This special environment has never been under greater threat. Proposed changes to the Government’s planning policy, potentially leading to much greater volumes of housebuilding in the South East, met with strong resistance, but the outcome remains uncertain. And more pressingly, despite the potential cultural shift in national planning policy, progress continues apace on the Chichester Local Plan, which will produce high levels of new housing development around the perimeter of Chichester Harbour Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, despite the infrastructure capacity issues around wastewater treatment and transport being a long way from resolution.
Assessment by Natural England of the Chichester Harbour Site of Special Scientific Interest found that the Harbour’s unique environment is overwhelmingly in unfavourable-declining condition. 90% of the SSSI area is classed as “Unfavourable – Declining” or “Unfavourable – No change”. Only 6.7% is classed as “Favourable” condition, and 3.1% as “Unfavourable – Recovering”. Without drastic intervention, this situation is only likely to deteriorate further.
The Chichester Harbour Trust has called for an application to Government for the Chichester Local Plan timetable to be placed on hold whilst the emerging national planning policy is developed. In the meantime, to prevent the very real danger of developers exploiting the gap in local planning policy, a moratorium on new housing development should be enforced until a revised plan is in place. This model has been used successfully in Epping Forest while the new Plan is considered by the Inspector.
One of the main issues affecting the delivery of the Local Plan is the treatment of waste water, which currently lacks the infrastructure to cope with the existing need, let alone the addition of 12,000 additional dwellings. During 2020, the Harbour received over 100 days of direct (untreated) wastewater discharge, leading to both ecological and human health impacts. Over the Christmas period alone, Southern Water was discharging untreated waste water into the Harbour for six days in a row. There have been no signs of improvement, and Chichester District Council is concerned that Southern Water will not be able to provide enough capacity for the new homes planned for the District.
And with all this in mind, there is no doubt that 2021 has to be the year that we reverse the decline in nature. The leaders of England’s foremost conservation bodies (Natural England, the Environment Agency, and Forestry Commission) issued a New Year plea:
“It is clear 2020 brought home to many people just how much we rely on a healthy environment for our wellbeing. The crisis has sharpened our collective national focus on how we rebuild after coronavirus; how we rebuild the economy, society as a whole, but also crucially, the environment” – The Independent, 1 Jan 2021
“2021 will see the publication of a raft of government blueprints on the environment, setting out a vision of landscapes with woodlands, linked together with healthy wetlands, river systems and peatlands, which can store carbon, reduce the impacts of drought and floods, provide cleaner water and habitat for thriving wildlife and places of beauty for people to enjoy and explore.” – The Independent, 1 Jan 2021
The work of the Chichester Harbour Trust, our partners and stakeholders, to protect this special coastal environment has never been more important. The Trust is working closely with Chichester Harbour Conservancy, local authorities and local community groups to campaign for better protection of the Harbour to ensure that it continues to provide a resilient landscape for the future, providing a haven of tranquillity for both people and wildlife alike. We must try to avoid permanent damage to this unique place.
The Chichester Harbour Trust is an independent charity, dedicated to protecting Chichester Harbour Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty for those who live, work and enjoy spending time here. Over the past 19 years, we have been successful in raising funds to acquire land for conservation and recreation, with 13 sites and over 275 acres now permanently secured for the benefit of future generations.
To support the Trust, we invite people to make regular contributions via a standing order, or to consider leaving a legacy that will make a lasting impact. Visit chichesterharbourtrust.org.uk for more information and follow us on social media for regular updates on our work.