Summit commits to action to save Chichester Harbour

Action must address the root causes of declining water quality and damage to natural habitats in Chichester Harbour, a multi-industry summit has agreed.

Wednesday, 26th May 2021, 11:57 am
Chichester Harbour at Prinsted. Picture by Steve Robards

Strong concerns about the environmental welfare of the harbour, the impact of sewerage infrastructure and future housing development have all been raised repeatedly with decision makers over the past few years.

Senior leaders from 16 national and local organisations with an interest in improving the water quality and natural habitats of both Chichester and Langstone Harbours, have committed to an evidence-led way forward, following a summit on Friday (May 21) hosted by Southern Water.

They agreed that action must address root causes and not just put a sticking plaster on symptoms.

Participants have agreed that a co-ordinated and integrated programme of action underpinned by collaboration and partnership, is critical to faster and more effective progress to tackle the urgent threat to the natural capital of the harbours, and the increasing pressure of climate change and population growth.

Action needs to be practical, realistic and affordable to ensure the environment, the economy and the local community is better off, now and for future generations.

The summit builds on and further strengthen existing partnerships and projects including Sussex Nature Partnership, catchment partnerships and the Solent Forum and the newly formed Chichester Harbour Protection & Recovery of Nature group (CHaPRoN).

It was independently chaired by Professor Sir Dieter Helm former independent chair of the natural Capital Committee, which provided advice to government on the sustainable use of natural capital.

Ian McAulay, chief executive of Southern Water, said: “While only a first step, this commitment is nonetheless an important one. The South East is one of the most water stressed regions in Europe and a collective effort is urgently needed to tackle the issue of pollution and protect precious natural habitats. Working together, we can create a shared action plan which will improve the water quality of our harbours, for the benefit of the environment, water users, the local economy and local communities.

“We urgently need better alignment in terms of funding cycles, strategy and plan revisions, common tools and shared goals. We need to understand what the biggest and quickest wins are and where we can achieve the greatest impact from our shared efforts and collective investment. We must take action now, commit to working in an open, honest and supportive way and demonstrating progress.

“Only a collective effort will address the challenge we face. Southern Water recognises it must be part of the solution and is playing it’s part through a sustained programme of investment and activity. We see a real opportunity for nature based solutions as part of our environmental vision, which is the foundation for everything we do as a company.

“We are grateful for the efforts of everyone at the summit and look forward to working with them to tackle this important issue.”

The summit is a first step in an ongoing process to improve water quality and protect the important natural habitats of the South East. The collective effort will see businesses, local authorities, Rivers and Wildlife Trusts and others, working together to improve water quality through a range of measures, including nature-based solutions and technological innovation, agricultural good practice, water and nitrogen efficiency standards in new housing, and encouraging people to adopt new, water-efficient habits.

Following the initial summit, participants have agreed to collaborate on a natural capital baseline and to ensure there is a clear vision in place to describe the condition of the environment in and around Chichester and Langstone harbours in 2030 and beyond. It is hoped that this model of collective action can become a template for similar efforts across the region and country.

Professor Sir Dieter said: “The status quo is unsustainable and therefore it will not be sustained. This is the chance to grasp the prize of a greatly enhanced natural capital of the harbours with all the multiple benefits this will bring - and it can only be achieved in an integrated way, with all the parties joining together in a comprehensive natural capital plan.”

Diane Shepherd, chief executive at Chichester District Council, said: “The water summit was a positive step towards working together to help protect the harbour for future years to come.

“Within our emerging local plan we are already committing to nitrogen neutral standards in new homes; encouraging reduced water usage through planning requirements; and participating and supporting the Chichester Harbour Water Quality Group and the Chichester Harbour Protection & Recovery of Nature group. The organisations participating in the summit all have a role to play and by working together we can make a big difference.”

Richard Craven, director and harbour master at the Chichester Harbour Conservancy and chair of CHaPRoN, said: “CHaPRoN is an urgent response to the scale of the environmental decline and the huge benefits that can be realised from enhancing the natural capital of Chichester and neighbouring harbours.

“It will take unity of purpose to maximise the potential, and the added expertise and heft that Prof. Sir Dieter Helm and Southern Water bring to the issue is very welcome.”

Henri Brocklebank, director of conservation policy and evidence at Sussex Wildlife Trust, said: “The threats to Chichester Harbour are complex and diverse and efforts have been made for decades to reverse them. With the ongoing decline of the wildlife features of the Harbour we welcome a refreshed multi sector approach to turning the narrative around. Business as usual cannot be an option.”

Sue Beale, Kent & Sussex manager at Natural England, added: “As shown by the recent Natural England report on the condition of the harbours, there are a range of urgent environmental issues which need tackling to secure the future of the harbour.

“The Save our Harbours Summit felt like an important step towards the necessary collaborative approach, joining up and focusing energy on delivery and funding to drive forward collective nature recovery on land, water and sea; linking up with local communities and paving the way for the harbours to be a flagship for the natural capital approach in the future”

Simon Moody, area director for Solent and South Downs at the Environment Agency, said: “A thriving future will require regulators, businesses, planners and land users to work together to protect and enhance the natural capital of Chichester and Langstone Harbours. This summit was a great start in defining what’s needed to achieve a sustainable future environment for the harbours, catchments and surrounding communities.”

William White, South East regional director for the National Farmers’ Union, said: “The NFU acknowledges the need to up the gears on the necessary partnership working. There’s some work still to do on evidencing baselines but farmers and growers are generally well positioned to provide solutions alongside their food production role.”

Dr Sean Ashworth, deputy chief officer for the Sussex Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority, said: “Sussex Inshore Fisheries & Conservation Authority is pleased to be part of a group of leading organisations whom are championing a sustainable marine environment.

“By focussing on the underpinning water quality imperative, the summit group will help secure the right balance between social, environmental and economic benefits to ensure healthy seas, sustainable fisheries and a viable local fishing industry.”

Charlie Baker, chairman of the Arun and Rivers Trust, said: “The Arun and Rother Rivers Trust, which is the charity whose mission is to improve water quality in the rivers of West Sussex, welcomes the initiative of Southern Water in addressing the multi-level contamination which is the blight of Chichester and Langstone Harbour.

“ARRT looks forward to working on the rivers and rifes that feed the harbours to eliminate pollutants at source. ARRT will work with all organisations that allow toxic and impure inputs to reach the harbours via these waterways. ARRT will work in conjunction with other concerned organisations through the Arun and Western Streams Catchment Partnership.”

Lyall Cairns, head of Coastal Partners, said: “We are fortunate to live and work with such beautiful harbours with internationally important habitats. I believe we have an opportunity to do better together to protect and where possible enhance our natural environment as guardians for generations to come. Through collaborations there is a opportunity to ‘stack’ the environmental benefits and look for more creative ‘blended’ funding models where the results will be greater than the sum of its parts.”

Kate Ansell, officer at the Solent Forum, said: “As an organisation which exists to support and facilitate partnerships, Solent Forum looks forward to working with Southern Water and other organisations to help preserve and enhance the beautiful harbours of Langstone and Chichester both now and in the future.”