Cuckmere Pathfinder

The Pathfinder Project is all about community involvement, and all key decisions have been made collectively, by members of the local community.

The focus of the project has been a series of engagement events (see opposite) at which local residents have worked alongside the Council, landowners and other statutory bodies to identify the different options, and together come up with a preferred approach for the future of the Cuckmere Estuary. To support this work, new research has been commissioned on the economy, visitors, landscape and heritage of the Estuary, and new visual modelling has been produced.

The Project involves the following steps:

Sharing understanding
Stage 1 was to give those involved in the project the chance to learn more about the reasons for the Environment Agency’s decision to withdraw flood maintenance and present evidence for alternative options. The EA presented their evidence at the first workshop ‘Sharing the EA’s Understanding’ held on 22 April 2010. At this workshop participants requested a second event at which members of the community could be given a similar platform to present the evidence for alternative management options for the Estuary. This workshop, ‘Sharing Community Understanding’, was held on 3 June.

Agreeing the options
Stage 2 was to agree a shortlist of possible options for the future management of the estuary, in the light of the Environment Agency’s decision. Members of the Cuckmere Community Forum prepared a report on options and these were discussed at an intensive community workshop held on 14 December 2010. It was agreed, at the workshop, to assess six options in addition to the ‘baseline’ option, of doing nothing.

Reviewing the evidence
Stage 3 has been to fill gaps in our knowledge about the Cuckmere and to commission four new research studies, on the economy, landscape, visitors and heritage. The research is being carried out in two phases. Phase 1 looks at the current situation, and was presented for discussion by members of the community at an evidence event on 8 February 2011.

Phase 2 looks at what might happen in future, under each of the options agreed in Stage 2. This second phase of the research was presented to the public for discussion on 5 April 2011.

In addition to the research, ESCC also commissioned new modelling and analysis, which uses a detailed review of the geomorphology and hydrology of the Cuckmere to assess likely changes over time, based on the options identified by the community. The full report is available from the modelling page of this website. The results of the modelling were presented to the public at the second evidence event on 5 April 2011. Copies of all the presentations given at this event are available below.

Setting the assessment criteria
Stage 4 has been to agree the criteria against which the seven different options for the future should be assessed. The criteria were discussed and assessed at an intensive community workshop held on 8 March 2011.

Testing and piloting
Stage 5 has been to test the options against the criteria, using the evidence from the modelling and the research studies. This took place in an intensive community workshop held on 12 April 2011.

Agreeing the approach together
Stage 6 was a major public meeting held on 7 June 2011, at which members of the community assessed each of the seven options against the agreed criteria and together reached consensus on the future management of the Cuckmere.

The preferred option was to maintain the existing defences for the time being. There was a very strong consensus that the meanders are the most important feature of the Estuary, and that any long-term solution should seek to retain or enhance them. The community therefore decided to also explore further the option of reactivating the meanders as a longer-term solution.

Four new research studies have been commissioned as part of the Pathfinder Project, on the heritage, landscape, visitors and users and economy of the Cuckmere. The studies were undertaken in two stages: the first stage looked at the current situation while the second stage looked at what might happen in the Cuckmere in the future, based on the results of the new modelling work.

The results of the research and modelling were presented at two public evidence events, held on 8 February and 5 April 2011. Please see ‘About the project’ for further information about these events.

In addition to this commissioned research ESCC has produced a report looking at the possible impact on the ecology of the Cuckmere of different management options.

Existing research

These four research reports add to a wealth of existing information about the Cuckmere which has been produced and commissioned by different organisations and academics. We are continually updating a database of information relevant to the Cuckmere, which includes information on where reports can be accessed.


East Sussex County Council commissioned Capita Symonds to prepare new modelling and analysis in order to help members of the community reach a decision about the best future management option for the Cuckmere.

This new modelling work uses a detailed hydraulic study of the Cuckmere, alongside a geomorphological and ecological review, to explore the likely short, medium and long term impacts of different flood risk management options. It provides an assessment of the likely changes to the estuary morphology, and the subsequent changes to flooding, vegetation, habitats and assets in the estuary, as well as a cost comparison of construction and maintenance of each option.

Alongside the written report, the results from the modelling are presented as a series of maps which show the extent and depth of inundation within the estuary for a range of tide and river conditions for each of the possible management options, as well as the different vegetation and land cover that we believe is likely to develop over the same period, for the same management options.

Main report

Please note that this is the final version of the Capita Symonds report and includes changes made in the light of feedback received from the community and the project team.

Download the main report - Capita Symonds Options Assessment Report

Seven Sisters Country Park