The Cuckmere Estuary is a beautiful valley where the River Cuckmere meets the sea. The valley has been subject to many man made alterations over the centuries. The area has been farmed, with livestock using the surrounding hills for grazing, since at least 1700. The valley floor itself was a tidal salt marsh. This changed in 1846 when a canal was built by hand on the west side. The precise reasons for the work are unknown, but it was probably to reduce flooding further up the valley and aid river navigation. The meanders seen in the photo above were cut off from the river, and are now just shallow lakes. The canal work also helped to improve the land for grazing.
The beach has also changed since the 1700’s, partly due to longshore drift and partly due to the canal. This has meant that regular maintenance work has been done to prevent erosion. The valley is an ideal landing spot, and fears of an enemy landing there have meant that the sea end has been fortified. Napoleon was the first threat, and two garrisons were located either side of the river. Some evidence of their presence still exists. In WW2, the area was defended with a network of pill boxes, tank traps and minefields. Many of these are still present (not the mines though).
The estuary faces a problem now. In 2011 funding to maintain the river banks was withdrawn. As there is no residential housing the government decided that the money could be used better elsewhere. With no maintenance the valley will eventually revert back to the way it once was. The Cuckmere Estuary Partnership, made up of a number of organisations including the National Trust, Environment Agency and East Sussex Council, are considering how to manage the problem.
Their plan as outlined on their website is: “By working with, rather than against, natural coastal processes, the estuary and its wildlife would be able to adapt to sea level rise, creating a mosaic of saltmarsh and mudflats. We would be able to maintain footpaths and recreational use of the area, preserve features such as the meanders and the beach, and limit the impacts on local businesses.
Working with nature could involve making a range of interventions, from relocating footpaths to controlling where future river and sea breaches are most likely take place. We want to work with members of the community to identify what aspects of the landscape and amenities are most important, and what interventions we can make to ensure that those aspects are preserved for the future”
So the views seen in these photos here will change over the next few years. It is inevitable. Nature will always undo what people make, when people cease maintaining it. Some will say that’s not a problem. You can view a larger version of each of these photographs by clicking on them.