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A Future Perspective on the Sussex Landscape
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Heather Baker, Chairman of the Friends of Chichester Harbour explores the changing nature of the Sussex landscape and how the organisation is working to protect it.
Across coastline, rolling hills, pastures, river banks, pastures and more, many moments down several centuries are frozen in time by the wonderful works within the Sussex Landscape: Chalk, Wood and Water exhibition.
From the calm of Turner’s Chichester Canal (c 1828) to Constable’s stormy Seascape Study: Brighton Beach looking west (1824-28), from William Nicholson’s open sky of Whiteways Rottingdean (1909) to Eileen Agar’s 1941 photograph of Catherine de Villiers and Princess Dilkusha de Rohan venturing on their moonlight river swim, each beautiful vista and scene is stilled and preserved on canvas and film for future generations to admire and consider that unique point in time. Yet, together, they also remind us that nature never stands still and change is always on the horizon.
Two particular works by contemporary artists, for instance, highlight our natural environment’s transience and vulnerability.
The webcam installed at Dell Quay Sailing Club brings live images onto screen for Susan Collins’ real-time transmission Dell Quay, reflecting a tidal cycle over a six-hour time span. From the exhibition’s start, the ebb and flow where land meets sea at this village harbour has ticked on daily.
Pippa Blake’s Deep the stream mysterious (2022) explores ‘… the tensions between the beautiful, the unknown, and the polluting effects of humans on the landscape’ and reminds us that ‘…chalk streams support an unusual diversity of wildlife and are currently under threat from pollution and man-made obstructions.’
It’s concerns such as this that point straight to the focus of the Friends of Chichester Harbour: the protection, conservation and enhancement of the natural environment along the stretch of the south coast that connects Hampshire and West Sussex.
This area can be seen within the lower left section of A Topographical Map of the County of Sussex (1795) as visitors enter the gallery for Sussex Landscape. Designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), Chichester Harbour is effectively an umbrella of inlets and channels into five smaller, picturesque harbours: Langstone, Emsworth, Chidham, Bosham and Itchenor. The South Downs provide a distinctive backdrop and Chichester Cathedral’s spire a focal point. Managed by Chichester Harbour Conservancy, Chichester Harbour is not only an AONB but a biological and geological Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) too, as well as several other special designations.
As a registered charity and community, the Friends’ mindfulness for the countryside, shoreline, waters, wildlife and marine life on our doorstep sees us supporting the work of Chichester Harbour Conservancy and other like-minded bodies. We help to research, identify and fund sustainability and educational projects. We also field volunteers to assist Chichester Harbour Conservancy rangers in practical maintenance initiatives along the coastline. (However, we are not a lobbying body and we don’t become involved in political matters.)
The natural environment, on land and offshore, surrounding Chichester Harbour’s expansive coastline means that the projects we look to are inevitably wide-ranging. At this point in time though, the harbour area is facing heightened challenges from human footprint and climate change and so our projects are becoming increasingly demanding and ambitious. A glance at a few recent initiatives enabled by the Friends of Chichester Harbour illustrates just what is at play.
In August 2021, we secured a £182,300 from the Government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund for the 18-month ‘Return of the Tern’ campaign. In conjunction with Chichester Harbour Conservancy and since last spring, five new tern rafts have now been floated out into the harbour to encourage nesting during the four-month breeding season (May-August) and 500 tons of shingle has been craned into place to heighten, by a metre, the level of Stakes Island within the Itchenor channel. This habitat for terns is now protected against the rising tides. What this project entailed, and more, can be viewed here.
We have provided funding towards Brighton University’s research projects into the sources and nature of pollution. Micro plastics and fibreglass deposits, in particular, are increasingly a worrying issue.
Five mobile pump-out stations are being provided to local marinas as a harbour-friendly resource to avoid waste from boat heads being discharged into the sea.
We’ve also assigned a grant of £30,000 over three years (2022 – 2024) for Chichester Harbour Conservancy’s education programme (based at Dell Quay) so that local school children can discover the wonder of the harbour and the wildlife that depends upon its wellbeing.
The weekly work parties organised by Chichester Harbour Conservancy rangers see Friends’ volunteers tackling all manner of out-in-the field maintenance tasks: clearing bramble, coppicing, footpath improvements, fence replacing, beach clean-ups, tree-planting and the like. Other volunteers operate the popular harbour tours (May-September) on board the Oyster Boat Terror. Moored in Emsworth, this beautifully-restored 125 year-old wooden sailing boat sees ticket sales also helping to finance the environmental projects that we champion. Similarly, our calendar of harbour-related social events also generates much needed income.
Nature Recovery Needs People
This range of activity merely hints at the significant financing and volunteering time required to fulfil our various goals.
We therefore rely heavily on individual and family memberships, as well as business partners, signing up as ‘Friends’. Various levels of membership fees contribute directly to the charity’s finances and funding of sustainable initiatives. Donations and legacies, small or large, are also hugely appreciated. Rather than money, some may prefer to give their time and we regard that as being of great value too.
It’s little surprise that after the First World War, the Sussex countryside began to attract a mass exodus of artists away from London due to the beauty and calm of the natural landscape. Today, the very same setting also works its balm whether for those who have grown up here, recently made the area home or might be a first-time visitor keen to return across the seasons.
Whether painters or photographers, cyclists, walkers, ramblers, windsurfers, kayakers, sailors, ornithologists, swimmers, day-trippers or any other with a love of the countryside, sea and nature, by looking to images from the past our concerns for the future can only be sharpened. Whatever our connection with the area, we have to be aware of our footprint on the Sussex landscape.
We hope you will link into the Friends in our mission to conserve and improve the unique beauty of Chichester Harbour so that generations ahead can enjoy an area that Sussex Landscapes: Chalk, Wood and Water has so brilliantly framed.
Find out more about the Friends of Chichester Harbour on their website.