Wildlife threatens to delay Pagham sea defence work

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Tempers frayed when hundreds of Pagham residents demanded action to protect their homes.

More than 200 villagers packed their village hall to call for work to keep back the sea.

Their anger has been prompted by the failure to produce a long-term solution to the eroding Pagham Beach in spite of a series of studies.

A further factor in their increasing annoyance is the proposed imposition of marine conservation zone status on Pagham Harbour with its extra layer of legal protection for wildlife.

This has been prompted by the alleged existence of the rare Defolin’s Lagoon Snail (Caecum armoricum) – pictured above – on the growing Church Norton Spit which is causing the tides which wear away the disappearing beach.

Pagham Parish Council vice-chairman Ed Blackburn said: “Whether or not the snail is there, whether or not the marine conservation zone is there, if you ask the residents of Pagham, every single one of them would say they would like a channel cut through the spit to protect their properties, protect the arable crop fields which feed us and to protect the businesses which support our economy.

“We don’t want further studies. We want to hear a reason why it can’t be done. We want that channel cut. It’s not about the snail’s protection. It’s about protecting us.”

MP Nick Gibb chaired the 130-minute meeting last Friday. He told its panel of experts he wanted them to meet again in two months to suggest answers to the problem.

“The message from this meeting has been very clear. People want action. At least 350 properties and possibly another 107 are at risk,” he said.

“The people in this room and beyond have their life savings tied up in a piece of property that is at risk from the decisions taken by the different organisations represented on this panel.

“It’s unacceptable that people should have to wait for another 18 months on top of the wait of the past two to three years. Now is the time we start to get some decisions made.”

He expected another public meeting in four to six months.

Ray Radmall, the parish council’s chairman, said: “We are up to our ears in studies. They go back years.”

He had begun the meeting with some background to the current situation. The large audience became hostile with jeers and heckling as the panel members went through their comments.

The bodies present who played the greatest role as the questions were fired at them were the Environment Agency, Natural England and Arun District Council. West Sussex County Council was also present.

Chris Mullen, a conservation specialist at Natural England, explained through jeering the organisation was sure any sea defence work would be unaffected by the marine conservation zone.

It would cover the harbour’s local nature reserve with its centre, the reference area – restricted to 500m along the spit.

“We want to achieve the best solution for the local community and the wildlife,” he said. “We need to find ways to meet the various legislative requirements as well as the best flood defences.

“The zone adds another layer of legislation to make it more difficult but it is not impossible.”

The Environment Agency’s Rob Carr said the Pagham Beach shoreline was constantly changing. A recently study showed the most likely outcome was the gradual silting-up of the harbour mouth.

More studies were under way to decide the best course of action to tackle this if it happened.