The environmental state of Chichester Harbour is of huge concern and the effects of pollution and habitat decline have been well-publicised. In December a second Chichester Harbour Action Summit took place, to review actions being taken to arrest the environmental decline. The meeting comprised senior leadership from the Environment Agency, Natural England, OFWAT, Southern Water, Chichester District Council, Chichester Harbour Conservancy and Chichester Harbour Trust, whose Chairman, John Nelson chaired the meeting.
The organisations involved demonstrated a collaborative determination and commitment to working towards improving the state of nature within the harbour. The key areas of focus were water quality, improving the habitats for which Chichester Harbour is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and planning policy and management of development around the harbour. Specific actions towards these aims were agreed, and updates on the progress so far given as follows:
Southern Water, under the regulatory supervision of OFWAT, are now implementing a major plan to increase treatment capacity, reduce storm water infiltration, and increase storage and wetlands for overflow around the key sites and treatment works in the harbour. This work is expected to be completed by 2030. The Environment Agency is tasked with reviewing its permit policy for Chichester Harbour, in line with Government legislation.
The Environment Agency is developing initiatives to work with farmers to reduce the ingress of nitrates into the Harbour. This is a major programme involving regulation for Sussex and Hampshire, creating a collaboration group of local farmers, and a nutrient measuring tool. Southern Water and the Environment Agency are taking steps to improve the monitoring of water quality.
Chichester Harbour Conservancy are leading a partnership focussed on reversing the “unfavourable declining” condition of the Chichester Harbour SSSI. The Chichester Harbour Protection and Recovery of Nature (CHaPRoN) partnership focusses on four key areas including water quality. The other three are:
Coastal Resilience and Saltmarsh
Having lost nearly 60% of Chichester Harbour’s saltmarsh since 1946, urgent action is needed to restore this precious habitat. Several sites around the harbour have been identified for restoration projects and work is underway to halt the saltmarsh decline.
Several projects are taking place across the UK and Solent in to restore seagrass meadows. In Chichester Harbour, significant survey work will take place in 2024, and a trial is taking part assessing different methodologies which may be used for future restoration projects.
The focus here is the improvement of habitat and provision of undisturbed breeding areas as well as the reduction of recreational disturbance. There have been significant successes in providing rafts for breeding Tern populations, and a shingle re-charge project at Stakes Island has shown early signs of success.
PLANNING POLICY AND DEVELOPMENT MANAGEMENT:
The impact of overdevelopment around the harbour is recognised by all parties. However, the local planning authorities are subject to national Government planning policy, which at present provides little protection for the environmental issues facing the harbour. Further representations will be made by Chichester Harbour Conservancy and the Chichester Harbour Trust to relevant ministers and shadow ministers to explain the urgent need for a coherent environmental policy to protect sites such as Chichester Harbour.
Chichester District Council is now in the final stages of concluding preparation of the emerging Local Plan. This has involved considering and addressing comments from the Regulation 19 consultation; meeting with key stakeholders and government ministers and finalising critical evidence, including mitigation of impacts on the A27 and local highway network; and ensuring an adequate supply of housing will be delivered. The Council plans to submit its Local Plan in early 2024. The Council is also at the early stages of working with partners to prepare a new Biodiversity Strategy to improve biodiversity in the area.
Matt Briers, CEO of Chichester Harbour Conservancy, said “Chichester Harbour Conservancy is focussed on the urgent need to reverse the declining environmental state of the harbour. To do so requires collaboration and determination across organisations and authorities, undertaking actions that put the environmental state of the harbour front and centre.”
John Nelson Chair of the Chichester Harbour Trust commented: “While this meeting was encouraging, the steps being taken will require time, particularly implementing the investment to improve water quality. We also need a national Government that is going to reform water regulation and provide a planning policy that puts the environment first. This is the only way we are going to avoid an existential crisis for Chichester Harbour.”