We know that there is a global ecological crisis. Though small in the context of world ecological action, the Cockshut stream restoration project is playing a small part on a local scale. The ambition is to preserve this special place, inspiring individuals and communities to engage with and protect our local river systems
What is the project? The Cockshut is a 3km long chalk stream that flows from springs at the foot of the South Downs in Kingston, eventually joining The River Ouse before flowing out to sea. Work is about to begin to realign the stream into a new channel which will flow through a 6.8 hectare wetland habitat to the east of the Stanley Turner Ground.
What’s it’s history? The stream has a long and vibrant history as a working waterway and was used in the past to deliver goods into Lewes at high tide, including stone for the building of Lewes Priory which began around 1080 AD. As the Priory grew, the Cockshut fed its meadows, fish ponds and mill. In the seventeenth century, water from the stream fed into Lewes’ first pumped water supply.
Over time, the stream has been straightened, deepened, widened and disconnected from the surrounding landscape. The current channel is steep-sided, slow flowing and shallow.
It runs from Spring Barn Farm along the C7 and then behind the Stanley Turner Ground before continuing northeast to the A27, where it is culverted before reappearing near Cockshut Road. It then continues east along Ham Lane before eventually merging with The River Ouse.
Why is this important? A rare and unique habitat, an estimated 85% of the 220 world’s chalk streams are found in England, and a high proportion of these have been adversely affected by human activities.
In 1988, the site was classified as an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), however, more recent studies of the site have not revealed the presence of the flora and fauna cited in the classification.
The Ecological Impact Assessment states that ‘it is anticipated that on completion there will be a positive residual effect, significant at the County Level as the population of notable Odonata species and molluscs of conservation importance should increase’.
The Cockshut Stream Restoration Project is set to not only enhance biodiversity, help with flood management and carbon storage but also to restore the rights of the stream to flow unimpeded, unpolluted and with its native plants and wildlife protected.
Who’s involved? The project has come about through a joint meeting with Lewes District Council, Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust and South Downs National Park to look at potential improvements to chalk streams in Lewes. The Cockshut site on Lewes District Council land was identified early on and LDC and SDNP provided funding to OART to carry out feasibility.
Once the project was proven to be viable, LDC and OART partnered with The Railway Land Wildlife Trust to take the project forward. Funding for the project has come from LDC, SDNP (CIL) and Veolia Environmental Trust.
What’s next? The project will be completed and accessible to the public by Autumn 2023. In addition to the benefits to wildlife, human visitors will be able to enjoy a new circular walkway, bridges and interpretation panels.
Though the ongoing work will ensure that we are enriching the habitat and allowing wildlife to thrive, in the short term, the work taking place will look very dramatic – expect diggers and superficial disruption of the ground during the next phase.