Cuckmere River

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Looking West over Cuckmere Haven
Meander of the River Cuckmere
The Seven Sisters and Cuckmere Haven

The River Cuckmere flows entirely through Sussex, rising near Heathfield on the southern slopes of the Weald and flowing down to enter the English Channel at Cuckmere Haven. Its meeting with the sea is the only undeveloped river mouth on the Sussex coast.[1]

The name of the river probably comes from an Old English word meaning fast-flowing, since it descends over 328 feet in its initial four miles.


The river has many tributaries at its upper end, the principal one being the River Bull; and its main channel begins at Hellingly. After crossing the Low Weald area of farmland, the Cuckmere cuts through the South Downs in its own valley. It reaches the English Channel at Cuckmere Haven between Seaford and the Seven Sisters cliffs.

The lower part of its course in the floodplain is marked by broad meanders.

The Cuckmere Valley Nature Reserve is located in the lower estuary portion of the river. The valley is of very high importance for nature conservation. It has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is planned as a National Park.[2]

History and environmental issues

During the 19th century, defensive measures were taken to prevent flooding of the upper valley. Shingle was regularly dug from the mouth of the river and the banks were made higher. In 1846, the course of the river was straightened in an artificial cut; the cut mostly prevented flooding upstream, which used to reach to the town of Alfriston. It also provided support for irrigation.[3] In addition, raised river banks were constructed to protect areas from flooding.

In recent decades, the Cuckmere Valley has become a major tourist destination, such that tourism contributes to the local economy more even than does agriculture.

The Cuckmere Estuary Partnership, a collaboration of various tax-funded public bodies has developed pland for the valley which do not often accord with residents' nor farmers' wishes – such as to increase ecologically diversity by flooding the land to return it to its natural state, estuary restoration and such schemes. At present, a shingle beach and artificial river banks prevent seawater from penetrating the uppermost areas of the Cuckmere Valley but, citing eventual rises in sea level, the Environment Agency has proposed to abandon the banks and to allow the return of natural processes, including periodic flooding of the area. Needless to say, residents affected have voiced opposition and formed a group called "Rescue the Cuckmere Valley" to try to create an alternative to proposed seasonal flooding.[4][5] In early 2008 the Cuckmere Parish Council issued a public statement urging the Environment Agency to take less drastic steps in the near term, protecting the Cut while developing longer-term plans over the next 25–50 years.[3]

Outside links


  1. River Cuckmere - Waterscape
  2. "Congratulations to the Environment Agency on the Cuckmere Valley!", Tony Whitbread Blog, 7 Jan 2009, accessed 29 Oct 2010
  3. 3.0 3.1 "'Dangerous message' over Cuckmere's future", Sussex Express Series (Lewes), 19 Jan 2008
  4. "Cuckmere Valley flood plans to be revealed", Sussex Express Series (Lewes, England), 30 Aug 2007, accessed 29 Oct 2010
  5. "Alternative Plan for Cuckmere Valley?", Eastbourne Herald (Eastbourne, England), 27 Apr 2004