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.

Brighton Dolphin Project Drawing Competition Winners

Brighton Dolphin Project & Royal Pavilion & Museums launched a drawing competition to celebrate the launch of the OceanBlues website and National Marine Week.  

The competition was to draw any of our six Sussex marine mammals. We had lots of fantastic entries but our two winners were:

Up to 6 years: Austin Kempton aged 6, from Hove 
Seal on a rock above the sea by Austin Kempton aged 6
7-12 years: Arlo Kempton from Hove 
Seal on a sandy beach by the salty sea, by Arlo Kempton aged 9
Well done guys!

Brighton Dolphin Project

Many of us walk along Brighton seafront gazing out at the beautiful ocean, but what actually lives beneath the waves? 

From the surface, the answer may appear to be ‘not much’ but as this video shows, looks can be deceiving…

This  pod of bottlenose dolphins was seen just a mile off Shoreham Port by Brighton Fish Sales on 26/05/2020 (courtesy of Brighton Dolphin Project), and it’s not only bottlenose dolphins that visit Sussex seas…

We are lucky enough to have six species of marine mammal living in Sussex!  They include: bottlenose, white-beaked and common dolphins, harbour porpoises, grey seals and harbour seals.

That’s where Brighton Dolphin Project come in.  The Sussex coastline is the most poorly researched area for marine mammals. Their mission is to tell the world about the dolphins of Sussex, research these wonderful cetaceans and find out just how many are Brighton residents.

White-Beaked dolphin illustration, copyright Brighton Dolphin Project

To find out where the dolphins are, and how they are behaving, Brighton Dolphin Project needs people to get involved and send in their sightings as part of a huge citizen science project.

“we ask people to report any sightings and tell us about their experience. To date we have over 200 sightings of marine mammals recorded and these are only the sightings that have been sent into us!”

The future for Brighton Dolphin Project

The future is looking bright for Brighton Dolphin Project. The project is growing larger and they are in the process of moving into exciting new premises at Shoreham Port. They are hoping to gather more data too – the more data they have, the more likely they are to be able to protect dolphins in Sussex.

Take action!

You can help Brighton Dolphin Project by…

  • Keeping your eyes peeled for any marine mammals in Sussex. Use their Research Leaflet  to help you collect data and aid your spotting
  • Following them on Instagram @brightondolphinproject
  • Making sure you take your litter with you when you visit beaches so our marine life doesn’t get tangled up
  • Entering their drawing competition (closing 28/08/2020)

Marine creatures

Explore our fossils to see what animals lived in our seas around 100 million years ago.

No. 3 Cormorant

Photo of Cormorant, copyright Andy Hay. Courtesy of RSPB Brighton & District Local Group.

Want to see a prehistoric looking bird? I think you should look no further than the cormorant! Cormorants have an ancient dinosaur like look about them, as they sit on boats or rocky cliffs and stretch their wings. Look out for the young birds which have a cream coloured chest.

Grey seal

Grey seal, Illustration by A. Francis, courtesy of Brighton Dolphin Project

The grey seal is found on both shores of the North Atlantic Ocean. It is a large seal of the family Phocidae, which are commonly referred to as “true seals” or “earless seals”. In the UK average weights are 233 kg (514 lb) for males and 154.6 kg (341 lb) for females with Bulls reaching 1.95–2.3 m (6 ft 5 in–7 ft 7 in) and cows typically 1.6–1.95 m (5 ft 3 in–6 ft 5 in) long.

Did you know?

Grey seals can stay underwater for up to 16 minutes, diving as deep as 300 meters, but usually diving to around 70 meters


White-beaked dolphin


White-beaked dolphin, illustration by A. Francis, courtesy of Brighton Dolphin Project

The White-Beaked Dolphin is a robust species of dolphin with a short beak. Adults can reach 2.3 to 3.1 m (7 ft 7 in to 10 ft 2 in) long and weigh 180 to 354 kg (397 to 780 lb). 

Did you know?

Each jaw of the White-beaked dolphin holds 22-28 pairs of small, conical-shaped teeth, which help the animal easily grasp prey. Fishermen in Canada call this dolphin ‘Squidhound’.

Sussex sighting 

Marine mammals

The Sussex Coastline is home to an abundance of marine wildlife including six species of marine mammals! The team at Brighton Dolphin Project gives us top tips on the mammals we should keep an eye out for.

Brighton dolphins

In Sussex, we are lucky enough to have not one not two, but three species of Dolphin that are regularly spotted in our waters!Bottlenose Dolphins that are here year round and regular visitors in the form of Common Dolphins and White-beaked Dolphins.

The world’s smallest marine mammal

Our coastline is also home to one of the smallest marine mammals, the Harbour Porpoise. We also have two seal species; the grey seal and the Harbour (or Common) Seal. Click on each species to find out more.

Bottlenose dolphin

Bottlenose dolphin
Bottlenose dolphins inhabit warm and temperate seas worldwide, being found everywhere except for the Arctic and Antarctic Circle regions. Their ...
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Common dolphin

Common dolphin
The Common Dolphin is the most abundant cetacean in the world, with a global population of about six million. Adults ...
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White-beaked dolphin

White-beaked dolphin
The White-Beaked Dolphin is a robust species of dolphin with a short beak. Adults can reach 2.3 to 3.1 m ...
Read More

Harbour porpoise

Harbour porpoise
The Harbour porpoise is one of seven species of porpoise. As its name implies, it stays close to coastal areas ...
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Harbour seal

Harbour seal
The harbour seal, also known as the common seal, is a true seal found along temperate and Arctic marine coastlines ...
Read More

Grey seal

Grey seal
The grey seal is found on both shores of the North Atlantic Ocean. It is a large seal of the ...
Read More

Dolphin spotting 

Brighton Dolphin Project research and study these Marine mammals. Part of our work is based on recording sightings, where we ask people to report any sightings and tell us about their experience. Here are a few of the most recent and exciting sightings!  Find out how far we come with our project and how you can get involved here.

Written by the team at Brighton Dolphin Project  


A guide to rockpooling in Brighton

Just off the coast of Brighton, tucked away beneath the waves we have a huge variety of marine habitats including hidden chalk cliffs and  reefs – with their rich and colourful diversity of life, they are as good as any tropical reef! When the tide is low, Rockpooling gives us a glimpse into this underwater world, and you don’t have to go far from Brighton to explore some of the best ones.

Rockpools near Brighton Marina along the Undercliff Walk

The Undercliff Walk

The closest pools to Brighton city centre are near Brighton Marina along the Undercliff walk. These pools are within the Beachy Head West Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ). Beachy Head West was one of the first MCZs to be established in the country. The chalk reef is among the best examples of marine chalk habitats in the south east, which supports so many species and when revealed, the Rockpools are full of hidden gems.

So…let’s get started!

First things first, check the tide times! Sometimes you only have a small window of time to search the Rockpools, so checking this is key. There have been a couple of times where I’ve  made my friends come with me, only to find the tide is in and the rockpools are covered. Don’t make my mistake! Good sites to use are magic seaweed or tidetimes.

Undercliff rockpools covered by the sea around mid-tide

Equipment and footwear

Footwear with a good grip is essential – the rocks can get really slippery; wellies or waterproof trail shoes work well,  but beach shoes are the best.  Don’t forget sunscreen, a hat and take plenty of water to drink – you will be really exposed to the sun on the rocks. The Wildlife Trust’s top tips for rockpooling shows you the basic equipment you need to take with you to safely observe the animals.

Searching along the rock pools

ID guides 

The Wildlife Trust’s Spotter sheet is a great way to help you identify your finds if you’re a first-timer. As you become more familiar with the species there are some excellent pocket guides out there like Collins Complete Guide to British Coastal Wildlife or The Essential Guide to Rockpooling 

Searching for animals 

The far end of the beach towards the sea is the best place to start your search as the deeper pools are here. You can then make your way back towards the beach to search the shallower pools. Animals like to keep cool and damp, so searching under rocks and overhangs will give you a better chance of spotting them. Turn rocks and seaweed over slowly and gently, the longer you look, the more chance you will see things. Listen out for the sounds of fish splashing and crabs clicking too.

Protecting wildlife

Turning over stones, Chitons hidden underneath

The animals in rockpools are quite vulnerable so ensure you turn rocks over and put them back as slowly as possible. Check constantly to see if anything has moved under where you are going to put the rock back. If you collect anything in a bucket don’t keep it in there for long as it will get stressed by the temperature. Return everything you find to the pools as close to where you found it as possible.

Always something new!

The best thing about rockpooling is you always spot something new each time you go. Here are some animals I have spotted during my time rockpooling this summer on the Undercliff pools.

Spiny spider crab 

Camouflaged spiny spider crab



Cuttlefish eggs 

Cuttlefish eggs

Shore crab

Shore crab

Strawberry anemone 

Strawberry anemone

Reporting your finds 

Reporting rare finds to wildlife charities can be really important as it helps be build up a more detailed picture of the wildlife that lives in specific habitats. If rare species are found their is a higher likelihood that the areas will be protected in the future. Find out how data reports helped towards creating Marine Conservation Zones here.

You can report your finds to: 

Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre 

You can find out about the latest interesting reported finds on the glaucus website



Bivalve shells

This gallery displays fossil bivalve shells from our collection. They are from the Lower Cretaceous period and around 85 million years old.  Bivalves first appeared in the fossil record around 500 million years ago.  They are animals that belong to the mollusc group and have two hinged shells and 15,000 species still live in our seas today including clams, mussels and scallops.