Protecting the Arun Valley
A century ago the Sussex poet and writer Hilaire Belloc described Arundel and the Arun Valley as “the jewel for which the whole county of Sussex was made and the ornament worthy of its setting”.
Visitors to West Sussex who travel down by train cannot fail to have their breath taken away as they head south past Pulborough and the Arun Valley opens up on either side.
Flanked by the South Downs, the valley includes wetlands and other natural sites of international importance, while the tidal Arun itself is one of the fastest flowing rivers in England.
No-one can be in any doubt about the importance of conserving this stunning landscape, but there are considerable challenges ahead over how it is to be managed.
Climate change is increasing the risk of flooding, yet at the same time competing pressures on public spending mean that choices have to be made about future flood defences.
Brexit means that agricultural and environmental policy will now be brought under domestic control. The future of farm support is uncertain, but equally there are great opportunities as policy shifts towards payment for public goods. These services which the market cannot supply could include the provision of natural flood defences.
There were differing views about the way ahead. Doing nothing would mean the long term degradation of flood defences. Maintaining them would require significant new funding.
A radical option would be to abandon flood defences altogether in parts of the Lower Arun Valley, allowing the river and floodplain to function naturally, creating additional wetland habitats. But the loss of farmland and impact on properties would be highly contentious.
Two years ago I brought together landowners, farmers, environmental groups and other stakeholders to discuss the options.
Last week the Arun Valley Vision Group published an excellent report, recommending a balanced approach to the management of the Arun Valley, upgrading flood defences while also creating new wetland habitats for flood storage. The report can be read at www.avvg.co.uk.
There had been strongly held views and differing approaches. But when all the affected parties got into the same room and listened to each others’ concerns, they were able to reach a consensus about the way forward.
What unites us is that we all really care about the Arun valley. Together, we can ensure that this beautiful part of the world is maintained.
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