No ‘free for all’

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The ‘right of navigation’ at Pagham Harbour Nature Reserve was a subject attracting comment from the West Sussex county councillor for South Chichester at the WSCC strategic environmental services select committee at the end of May, while considering whether the management of the nature reserve should pass to the RSPB.

She warned of a ‘free for all’ if boat permits are withdrawn by WSCC.

Emotive language, depicting, what I would suggest, is an unlikely scenario.

The harbour is tide-bound, silted up, and has strong currents in the entrance.

Hardly inviting to more than a handful of people with local knowledge, using small, shallow-draft boats.

The ‘right of navigation’ has existed in tidal waters for centuries, and Pagham Harbour is no exception.

Its byelaws acknowledge this right, and allow for the issue of permits for launching and leaving of boats.

Currently WSCC does not have the power to prevent boating in Pagham Harbour, contrary to the impression given by the councillor.

In view of the limitations of a system of permits, I suggest the reserve deserves the introduction of a code of conduct for water users.

Maybe the councillor’s observations were timely, in view of the committee’s recommendation to transfer the management of the nature reserve to the RSPB.

The RSPB has experience of managing other tidal habitats, such as its reserve at Langstone Harbour, where a code of conduct works well.

I feel sure such a move would be welcomed by people wishing to enjoy the nature reserve from the water, and who may be otherwise unaware of all its conservation sensitivities.

Indeed, DEFRA’s guidelines for managing nature reserves recommends this approach, and there would be nothing to be lost by introducing a code on a trial basis.

Kirsten Lanchester