National Character Area 124

Pevensey Levels - Summary and Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity

Summary

The term ‘Pevensey Levels’ refers to the low-lying area between Eastbourne and Bexhill in East Sussex. It is a wetland of national and international conservation importance and 37 per cent of the National Character Area (NCA) is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and Ramsar site. The Levels are predominantly rural and mostly grazed pasture, and consist of extensive drainage networks and flood plain. The NCA also includes the urban centre of Eastbourne which is a busy seaside town with a population of nearly 100,0004 and up to 5 million visitors each year. A coastline of shingle beach stretches along the length of the area, punctuated by settlements, historic military buildings and sea defence structures.

The area is framed by the steep scarp of the South Downs in the west and the higher ground of the High Weald in the north, with views of the English Channel to the south. Much of the Pevensey Levels was under water until the medieval period and the whole area is low lying and vulnerable to the effects of climate change, particularly coastal flooding. Sea defences consist mainly of open beach managed by periodic shingle replenishments, maintenance of groynes, recycling of material around the beach and re-profiling during and after storms. In the long term, these measures may need reviewing as sea levels rise. Managing the environmentally important Pevensey Levels is dependent on careful and continuous water management through a system of sluices and pumps.

Eastbourne is the main settlement within this small NCA with its essentially Victorian seafront and later settlement further inland and along the coast to the east, including the Sovereign Harbour complex constructed in the 1990s. Eastbourne Park is a grazed wetland surrounded by the urban development of Eastbourne and providing a green corridor linking to the Low Weald. Its primary role is flood storage, and it has an essential role in mitigating the effects of flooding on the surrounding built environment, but it is also important for recreational opportunities, archaeological interest and biodiversity.

The coast forms the southern boundary of the NCA. A shingle bank extends along the length of the coastal strip and acts as a sea defence, protecting homes and businesses, roads, railway links and the tranquil grazing marsh.

Headline Statements of Environmental Opportunity (SEO)

See the Statements of Environmental Opportunity section for more details on the headlines listed below.

SEO 1

Manage and plan for change in the function of the network of watercourses, water management infrastructure and wetland habitats across the Levels to provide benefits in improved flood management, water and soil quality, viable agricultural futures and protection of sub-soil archaeology, and to increase the range and extent of habitats and species and their resilience to climate change.

SEO 2

Manage and enhance the distinctive character of the open, lowlying Pevensey Levels landscape and its heritage features such as medieval farmstead sites, boundaries and relics of the salt making industry, benefiting landscape character, tranquillity, and sense of place and history.

SEO 3

Safeguard and manage the shingle beaches and coastline features that maintain the existence of the NCA and its associated habitats and species, benefiting protection against coastal erosion and flooding, biodiversity, sense of place and history, and geodiversity.

SEO 4

Plan for the creation of a strong landscape framework associated with the identified future growth of Eastbourne, Hailsham and Bexhill and along the A22 corridor. Manage and enhance access to green space within the area, balancing recreational provision with nature conservation, and ensure that Eastbourne’s surviving population of mature elms is protected.