Rathfinny Wine Estate

Cuckmere Valley Flooding

The Rathfinny Wine Estate is located just to the west of the Cuckmere Valley.

I came here as a child on a geography field trip to look at the meandering river and the iconic ox-bow lakes. I’m sure many other students have done the same over the years as the Cuckmere attracts over 400,000 visitors a year.  Well those ox-bow lakes are now at risk because the Environment Agency (EA) decided in 2009 to give up on maintaining the sea defenses and wants the area below the A259, the Cuckmere Haven, to become a “self-sustaining system”. However, there is a problem with this plan because the shingle on the beach keeps shifting. All the modeling of water flows and the like can’t predict what will happen to shingle that blocks off the river mouth and prevents the river from emptying properly, so we get flooding up the valley, as you can see.


The EA argue that because of budget constraints and the fact that very few houses are affected by the flooding they are rule bound and have to priortise expenditure in other areas. Haven’t we heard that before? Didn’t they say that about the Somerset levels?

The trouble is that the EA ‘do nothing’ approach to the Cuckmere Valley is a convenient get out clause to pass the buck onto East Sussex County Council and say “okay we don’t need to do anything anymore, so over to you.” The result of this policy will mean that the A259 will have to raised by over two-metres and the roads running along and across the Cuckmere Valley to Alfriston, West Dean and Litlington, which get cut off for weeks at a time during winter flooding, will also need raising and protecting. This will all cost tens of millions of pounds to correct. Yet it only costs the Environment Agency £30,000 a year to carry out the existing maintenance work and wouldn’t cost an awful lot more to do some basic maintenance to the sea defenses, de-silt the Cuckmere and maintaining the slice gates that drain the meadows. Some of which they have agreed to do but haven’t.

I’m a believer in climate change and agree that sea levels might rise a little over the next hundred years, but probably wont rise as much as everyone thinks, because ice floats and the level in my gin and tonic glass doesn’t go up when the ice melts. However, it seems silly to me that we are allowing the EA to get away with not doing some basic maintenance to the Cuckmere on the assumption that sea levels might rise by a metre in one hundred years time! After all this structure, which was designed by Dutch engineers over 100 years ago to ensure adequate drainage of the Cuckmere Valley, has stood the test of time.

I hope some heads can be knocked together, and adults can get involved to ensure we don’t face a huge bill for unnecessary work to our local infrastructure and we can maintain a system that works so well despite climate change.


Let’s try and preserve this iconic landscape.

Mark Driver



  • If the EA really can’t fund this work and it becomes the responsibility of the local council, it should be possible for the council to spend the money on the sea defences and not on raising the roads. Or are they obliged to stick with the EA policy of returning to nature?

    • I agree – but the EA still are obliged to clear the river mouth of the Cuckmere but they don’t want to do anything more!

  • “I’m a believer in climate change and agree that sea levels might rise a little over the next hundred years, but probably wont rise as much as everyone thinks, because ice floats and the level in my gin and tonic glass doesn’t go up when the ice melts.”

    The sea levels will rise because much of the ice predicted to melt is on land and will flow into the sea, not because of sea ice melting.

  • Just found your excellent article. As someone who lives within sight of Rathfinny and remembers well the dreadful floods of 2003 when the valley valley suffered dreadfully I am also concerned and the weather this autumn looks as though we could have a repeat. I also remember the hugely expensive consultation on this subject that was held in 2017 when it was agreed to keep the river flowing for At least another 20 years??? It seems blatantly obvious to me that the Environment Agency is hell bent on continuing with its preferred option of turning the estuary into “salt, marsh” —-mud flats actually.
    No one seems to be enforcing a legal obligation here, that is, Riparian owners have the responsibility for maintenance of watercourses ie keeping the water flowing. Unfortunately, in this country it can cost a great deal of money to get a legal requirement enforced.
    I notice, in the environment agency assessment they say there is no risk of death?? Does someone have to die owing to an ambulance having no access due to flooding before this risk is reassessed?? Note to all Seaford residents. Your ambulances from Eastbourne all pass through Alfriston at the moment.
    Me, I’m not a climate alarmist. I can’t understand the hysteria about that essential gas co2 amongst other things and yes— the water level in my whiskey is not affected by melting ice. That reminds me, I must pour myself another one!

    • I do wish that more people would write to the National Park, who have just bought the Cuckmere Haven from the NT and our local MP about this issue as Alfriston is about to be cut off again, and the river and waterways are just not draining because the shingle has cut off the river mouth.

  • Sorry about the typo in my post above. Of course the consultation I mentioned was in 2007 not 2017.
    Yes, let’s hope more people write to the SDNP. I’m glad to say we now have SDNP authority member living in the valley who I hope will be able to exert some influence here.
    I notice East Sussex County Council who owns the country park on the East bank of the Cuckmere including the meanders are handing over the country park to the South Downs national Park Authority. The transfer is expected to be completed by next March. If as you say, the National Trust have now given over the West Bank area of the river to the National Park, the NP now will have control of the whole Cuckmere Estuary and reaching up beyond the A259. Let’s hope this is not just buck passing going on here.
    Interestingly there was a report out last June announcing a £1.4 million improvement plan for the country park by the NP so they can’t say they have no funds to keep the river flowing.
    For anyone interested there is a Friends of the Cuckmere meeting Tuesday 22 October in the Plough and Harrow, Litlington, starting at 7.30. Where all these issues will be discussed and reported on.

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