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West Sussex wildlife secures Heritage Lottery Fund investment

Last modified: 10 July 2013

Water vole feeding amongst waterlilies

Image: Tom Marshall

The wildlife, landscape and communities of the Rivers Arun and Rother in West Sussex are to benefit from support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

A confirmed grant of over £1.1 million has been awarded by HLF to the Arun and Rother Connections: Linking Landscape and Community (ARC)project - a partnership made up of the RSPB, Environment Agency, Sussex Wildlife Trust, South Downs National Park Authority, Natural England, West Sussex County Council and the Arun and Rother Rivers Trust.

The funding award follows a year of development work, which included consulting with local communities about potential project activities, developing partnerships with other local groups and organisations, carrying out surveys and research resulting in a detailed plan for the next phase of the project.

ARC covers an area of 77,000 hectares and represents an innovative ‘landscape-scale’ approach to conservation. The project aims to counter the significant threats being faced by our wildlife by creating bigger, better and more connected wildlife habitats.

The project includes restoration work on a 13km stretch of the upper Arun, one of the biggest such projects ever attempted in south-east England. It will help the struggling fish populations by removing obstructions such as redundant weirs and look for ways to improve the water quality; work will also be undertaken to control invasive non-native species that threaten native wildlife and food production.

The project will also work with farmers and land managers to promote sustainable agricultural methods and to tackle issues such as soil erosion.

In addition to benefiting wildlife, ARC will offer local people opportunities to explore and enjoy the rivers and the surrounding landscapes through the provision of an exciting programme of activities.

For example, free taster sessions in canoeing, angling, bushcraft, and wildlife and landscape photography will be offered to young people. Volunteer days, where people can gain skills in tree planting, habitat or wildlife surveying, and invasive species removal will be organised, as well as less muddy activities such as oral history interviews, photography and digital media assignments.

All 64 primary schools in the project’s area will be offered an exciting ‘wetlands education programme’.  Highlights include river visits led by experienced field teachers, a new digital resource pack on the Arun and Rother rivers for teachers, water vole, otter and eel outreach sessions in schools, as well as ‘forest school’ training for teachers – enabling them to deliver outdoor education to young people beyond the life of the project.

Three nature reserves within the project area will also benefit from a number of enhancements, including improved disabled access at Burton Mill Pond, a new volunteer and visitor welfare unit at Pulborough Brooks and habitat improvements and signage at Waltham Brooks.

The Arun and Rother rivers and the landscapes through which they thread are rich in natural and cultural history. As well as stunning wildlife, the project area includes many scheduled ancient monuments, mills and moated farmsteads, castles, priories and medieval stone bridges, a shepherd’s church, Roman bath house, iron workings and the Wey and Arun Canal.

Steve Gilbert, Conservation Programme Manager for the RSPB, which led on submitting the bid, said: “We are delighted to have this opportunity to enhance the environment of these wonderful rivers on a large scale.

“This project is an exciting example of partnership in action, with a large number of organisations, groups and individuals working together to achieve our shared vision of a thriving river system where wildlife flourishes and where people value and enjoy the landscape and natural and cultural heritage”.

Stuart McLeod, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South East, said: “We at the Heritage Lottery Fund are pleased to be supporting this engaging partnership project which will actively involve local people with the vast natural heritage of the Arun and Rother rivers. Volunteers will have great fun while learning about the important role they play and how we can make sure they exist for future generations.” 

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