A new vision for the management of the Arun Valley has been warmly welcomed.
The new approach suggested includes maintaining or upgrading some of the existing flood defences, while allowing other areas to return to a more natural system, creating new wetland habitats for flood storage.
Arun Valley Vision Group has been working on the proposals for the past two years, having been set up by Arundel and South Downs MP Nick Herbert.
The report, A Vision for the Arun Valley, was launched at the White Swan Hotel in Arundel on Friday.
Mr Herbert’s initiative created a community partnership made up of major stakeholders in the Lower Arun Valley, between Pulborough and Littlehampton.
He said a number of challenges, including climate change, pressures on public spending and changing agricultural and environmental policy as a result of Brexit, had necessitated a new approach to management of the valley.
The report specifies lead roles for the various agencies involved, with the South Downs National Park Authority taking control of the next phase of meetings.
Andrew Lee, director of countryside and policy management, said: “The South Downs National Park Authority strongly supports initiatives taking a landscape-scale approach.
“The River Arun vision heralds two years of collaboration of a range of local partners in the development of a more sustainable future for wildlife, people and community in the Lower River Arun.
“We look forward to being part of helping the vision turn into action and outcomes on the ground.”
Farmers have also expressed support for the proposals, which could see them being paid to flood their land as well as to grow crops.
Tom Ormesher, environment and land use adviser at the National Farmers Union South East, said: “The NFU is happy to support the proposals within the AVVG report and I believe the document provides a very strong platform to work from.”
The Norfolk and Angmering Park Estates, a major landowner, has been actively involved as part of the vision group over the past two years.
Peter Knight, estate manager, said: “Flooding issues within the valley will become more self-evident not only in the long term but more importantly in the short term.
“The Environment Agency’s decision to cease maintenance in certain sections of the river concentrates the mind and solutions will need to be found sooner rather than later.
“With partnership funding having been discussed at length, this still requires further investigation. Whilst not all objectives have been achieved within the time period, the group has identified amongst others the need for an organisation to take forward the foundations laid out by the group.”
The vision group includes representatives of the Environment Agency, farmers and landowners in the valley, local authorities, the South Downs National Park Authority, Natural England, the Forestry Commission, the RSPB, the Sussex Wildlife Trust and others.
Members have worked in collaboration to develop a viable long-term vision for the management of the Valley, based on the concept of ‘adaptive management’.
This approach seeks to protect key areas by upgrading flood defence structures but would also create wetland habitats for flood storage for long-term flood resilience.
Mr Herbert said: “I would like to thank all members of the AVVG, especially the co-chairs, Dr John Godfrey and Gill Farquharson, for your hard work and the quality of your report.
“I will send the report to the secretary of state for environment and rural affairs, Michael Gove, pointing out that the proposed landscape-scale approach to the management of the Arun Valley has the support of key stakeholders and is consistent with the government‘s approach to environmental management and the future shape of the farm payments system.
“The more that there can be a coherent view involving lots of different partners, the stronger the case that we can make to government bodies. The strength of this group and this report is that it has brought together people that didn’t necessarily share the same view about how the valley should be managed in future, but it has got everybody sitting down together in the same room.
“I would encourage everybody to continue the work together, even if you have slightly different views. What unites us is that we all live here, work here and really care about this valley. Together, I think we can ensure this beautiful part of this world is maintained.”
Visit www.avvg.co.uk for more information.