Sussex Flow Initiative

Sam Buckland, Project Officer for the Sussex Flow Initiative describes how natural flood management is being used to tackle the climate emergency and biodiversity decline.

Increasing water storage to reduce flooding © Sussex Flow Initiative

The Sussex Flow Initiative started in 2012 as a Natural Flood Management project supported by Sussex Wildlife Trust, the Woodland Trust, the Environment Agency and Lewes District Council. The project works across the ‘catchment scale’, in other words, over the area of land where water collects and feeds into ponds, lakes and rivers. The project involves communities and landowners in the Ouse catchment, an area of 672 km2 and over 122 km of watercourses. The scheme is creating and enhancing natural features that slow and store water within the landscape, which reduces flood risk to communities downstream. The impact of the project extends far beyond the catchment boundary and flood management. A healthy landscape and river network are vital for human health and wellbeing, providing a range of benefits such as clean water and air, and increased biodiversity.

Volunteers planting trees to slow surface water © Sussex Flow Initiative
Volunteers planting trees to slow surface water © Sussex Flow Initiative

In most cases, natural flood management focuses on reversing past activities (such as drainage) and restoring the ability of the land to slow and store water. As a result, water is once again allowed to seep into soils and drain slowly into surface waters. Water also moves deeper into the soil, helping to top up the store of groundwater and resulting in a steadier supply of water. Trees can also help to control floodwater because of their importance in the water cycle. They intercept rainfall, take up water from the soil, slow down surface run-off and floodwater and help water to move deeper into the soil and groundwater. These processes hold water on land and reduce the amount and speed of water flowing into streams and rivers. Tree planting has added benefits such as providing important habitat and food for a range of birds, bats and insects, as well as storing carbon. With the help of local volunteers, our project has planted over 60,100 trees. We have established more than 9 kilometres of new hedgerow and 8.5 hectares of woodland (equivalent to the area of 10 football pitches), including over 4 hectares of floodplain woodland and 450 rare black poplars.


Within the stream and river channels, we have been restoring meanders, bankside vegetation and in-channel wood. These are all lost natural features that slow water and make for a dynamic and healthy ecosystem. Our project has created nearly 5 million litres of new, seasonal water storage, including flood storage ponds, wader scrapes and meadow washlands. An incredibly important part of the project is to increase the skills, knowledge and understanding of natural flood management and empower people to take positive action.

One such way is through using large woody debris, creating ‘leaky’ wood dams that imitate those that built by an important animal that has been missing from our waterways for 400 years; the beaver. Leaky dams are a natural component of streams, forming clusters of dams, slowing the water’s speed, trapping sediment and pollutants, and creating a range of different stream habitats that are important for fish and invertebrates. The presence of woody debris can also help to make the landscape more resilient to drought by encouraging the formation of small pools and helping to restore the natural movement of water. Through contractor training days and volunteer tasks, our project has installed over 270 leaky dams across the Ouse catchment. Hopefully we will see the return of beavers to Sussex catchments in the future, and with it the biodiversity and the flood management that they deliver through coppicing and dam creation.

Our project is using natural features to slow and store water in the landscape. These measures are cheap, collaborative and easy to implement, as well as delivering many other multiple benefits to society. We know that multiple actions taken now can provide positive natural flood management and natural capital benefits long into the future.

Help our Kelp!

Sussex Wildlife Trust talk to us about the latest updates of their HelpOurKelp campaign, why kelp is important and  what you can do to get involved.

Kelp is the name given to a group of brown seaweeds, usually large in size, that are capable of forming dense aggregations known as ‘kelp forests’.

Historically, kelp was abundant along the West Sussex coastline. But this important habitat has diminished over time, leaving just a few small patches and individual plants, mostly in shallow water and along the shoreline. Through the Help Our Kelp partnership, we want to bring it back!

Why we should Help Our Kelp!

How far have we come?

The first step towards restoration is to put fisheries management in place. Whilst there are a number of factors that may be affecting the kelp, one manageable factor is fishing effort.

The Sussex IFCA, who manage fishing within six nautical miles from the Sussex shore, agreed a new byelaw on 23 January 2020 which will see trawling excluded from a vast 304 km2 of Sussex coastline year-round. The decision was made following an extensive consultation period, which saw overwhelming support demonstrated by almost 2,500 people in response to the Help Our Kelp campaign.

The implementation of this byelaw will alleviate the pressure from this type of fishing on the habitat used by the kelp, giving it some breathing space to regenerate.

Sussex Wildlife Trust is delighted to be working alongside Big Wave Productions, BLUE Marine Foundation, Marine Conservation Society and University of Portsmouth as the Help Our Kelp Partnership. Together we have contacted Secretary of State George Eustice directly, urging him to sign the byelaw swiftly, and encouraged all Sussex MPs to do the same. We have done this understanding the urgency of the COVID-19 crisis and the important roles that DEFRA and our local MPs are playing.

As lockdown restrictions start to ease, we wish to put this critical byelaw back on the political agenda. We see it as a win-win scenario for Sussex, both for its people and its wildlife. Getting the byelaw signed is a positive and unprecedented action for a more sustainable Sussex.

Click hereto learn more and to watch the stunning campaign film created by Big Wave Productions, narrated by David Attenborough himself.

Take Action!

Click here to help Sussex kelp forests.  Writing to your local MP is one of the most effective actions you can take.

Written by Nikki Hills and Ella Garrud, Sussex Wildlife Trust

Sussex wildlife trust logo, courtesy of Sussex Wildlife Trust.jpg

Kittiwakes at Seaford Head in a changing climate

Edward Thomas Booth notes in his catalogue from June, 1867 that kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) are common. They are currently the most numerous gull species in the UK; however, they are now in serious decline. Since 2000 black-legged kittiwake numbers have declined by more than half.

Black-legged kittiwake in Rørvik, Norway, by Becky Matsubara from El Sobrante, California CC BY 2.0

Booth’s entry about the summer kittiwake diorama discusses the Sea-Bird Preservation Act that protected the birds. In Booth’s opinion:

‘the senseless slaughter that took place round their breeding-stations every summer having been allowed to continue too long without interference.’

The Sea Bird Preservation Act of 1869 was the first in the country to protect birds. It prevented people from killing seabirds and collecting their eggs from April to August so that they could breed. The main motivation for this was not for the protection of the birds themselves, but to aid sailors who relied on healthy seabird populations to find land in foggy conditions.

Illustration of Kittiwakes, female and young, by Edward Neale from Rough Notes on birds in the British Islands by Edward Thomas Booth.

As a collector of birds, Booth’s following sentence contains no sense of irony at his killing of these birds: ‘The specimens in this case were obtained at the Bass Rock in June, 1867.’ The winter kittiwake diorama contains adults in winter plumage and juveniles that were ‘shot a few miles off Brighton, in the winter of 1870.’

The black-legged kittiwakes joined the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species in 2018. Current threats to kittiwakes are associated with their prey, sand-eels and herring which are in decline, due to the effects of climate change. This impacts the prey the sand-eels feed on and the breeding season of the herring, which no longer coincides with the kittiwake breeding season. This results in lower breeding success for the kittiwakes.

Kittiwakes at Seaford Head copyright Andy Hay, courtesy of RSPB Brighton & District Local Group

Despite the downward trend of many populations of kittiwakes, the colony at Seaford Head in Sussex continues to thrive. Seaford Head to Beachy Head is designated as an area of Special Scientific Interest and Seaford Head Nature Reserve is part managed by Sussex Wildlife Trust and the National Trust. There are over 1000 nests in the kittiwake colony. No one knows exactly why they are doing better than other colonies around the UK. A possible explanation is that prey species are also faring better in the South East. However, this may change as sea temperatures are expected to rise faster along the south coast bringing more unpredictable changes for the kittiwakes and their associated marine ecosystem.

Written by Kerrie Curzon, Collections Assistant, The Booth Museum of Natural History