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Council agrees funding for vital river restoration projects in Chichester District

Projects aimed at restoring three of the Chichester District's rare river habitats have received a boost after councillors agreed to help fund them.

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At a Chichester District Council meeting on Tuesday 21 May, councillors agreed to invest £180,000 over the next three years, as part of two projects being led by the Western Sussex Rivers Trust (WSRT), formerly known as the Arun and Rother Rivers Trust (ARRT) (opens new window) to help restore the River Lavant and also the Ems and the Hambrook.

The money will part-fund two posts. One post will work on furthering a restoration plan for the Ems and the Hambrook. The other will begin work on a similar plan for the Lavant.

"We are delighted to be able to support the Western Sussex Rivers Trust in their critical work and help fund these key projects," says Councillor Jonathan Brown, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Environmental Strategy at Chichester District Council. "The trust approached us for help, and we felt that it was crucial to support them in this way because our contribution will in turn help them to unlock further potential funding from other sources.

"Many people may not be aware but the rivers Ems, Hambrook and Lavant are among only 283 chalk streams and rivers in the world. These are globally significant but very rare habitats and are almost exclusively found in the south of England. None of these rivers has official protection but we are seeking to gain better protection for them through the Chichester Local Plan and its Strategic Wildlife Corridors policy. We appreciate that this isn't enough on its own and that significant recovery work also needs to take place.

"Sadly, these rivers are now suffering from the effects of a number of activities including: pollution; habitat loss; drought; and, interruptions to their natural processes and flow. In addition, the River Ems is also suffering the effects of over-abstraction, a process where water is removed for domestic, industrial uses and agriculture.

"These chalk streams also feed into the internationally protected Chichester Harbour Special Protection Area and so it is absolutely vital that as a council we do all that we are able to do in order to support their protection and restoration for future generations. These projects will safeguard the future of three of the most significant rivers and streams in our district which will then also have a positive effect on our harbour.

"Working with our partners on projects such as these is key. Our role is to help facilitate other organisations who have the expertise to enable results that the council wouldn't be able to achieve on its own."

The projects are catchment-based plans, so not only would they look at the rivers and streams themselves, but also the whole landscape area that feeds into them.

The work will focus on restoring the natural function in the river channels; tackling invasive non-native species; and river re-meandering. This is work that creates a new meandering course or reconnects cut-off meander. This can slow down river flow and is also known to have a positive impact on sedimentation and biodiversity.

Alongside this work, the project officers will also work with landowners and the local community to carry out citizen science, which would include a range of activities such as monitoring water quality, biodiversity and encouraging people to report incidents.

Getting the public and local community involved is key to gathering good statistics in order to gain good outcomes. The officers will also run public events to build community engagement and understanding of the issues affecting the rivers — this will feed into finding potential solutions.

The Western Sussex Rivers Trust (WSRT) is one of a national network of river trusts that aim to protect and restore our rivers and streams. The Trust's area covers nearly all of Chichester and Arun Districts. The trust has been working on a series of catchment-based plans for the restoration of rivers and their tributary streams within Chichester District.

As part of the projects the council will meet regularly with WSRT to monitor progress.

Date of Release: 22 May 2024

Reference: 4330