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Sussex Ouse Navigation

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Sussex Ouse Navigation


Destruction of
Fletching Mill Weir

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General Issues | Environmental Issues | Restoration Issues | Membership Information

General Issues

What is SORT?

SORT is the acronym for the Sussex Ouse Restoration Trust.

What are Sussex Ouse Restoration Trust’s objectives?

  • conservation of the ancient structures associated with the river’s history,
  • restoration of navigation to the river above Lewes,
  • protection of the river’s wildlife, and the river’s banks, and
  • improvement of opportunities for educational and leisure use.

What is the history of the river navigation?

The Ouse Navigation was constructed in four stages. The Act of 1791 authorised the navigation of the Lower Ouse Between Lewes and Newhaven. Above Lewes, 9 locks were constructed from Hamsey to Sheffield Park in the 3 years 1790-1793; 2 locks from Sheffield Park to Freshfield in the 12 years 1793-1805; and 7 locks from Freshfield to Balcombe in the 7 years 1805-1812. A company was formed “The Proprietors of the Ouse Navigation Co.” and shares were issued to the value of £25,000. With the coming of the railways the last meeting of the company is recorded as 1859.

Who owns the river?

The riverbanks and riverbed are owned by various landowners. The river is controlled by the Environment Agency. We are in the process of examining which navigation rights still exist.

Does the Sussex Ouse project link with other waterways?

Only the sea at Newhaven - but the navigation was designed for “Rye” barges; so there were coastal links in the past.

What’s the point of restoring the river navigation?

Landscape beauty and a haven for wildlife, an area where people can enjoy tranquillity whether by boating, walking, riding, fishing or just standing and watching. Quote from PAL Vine: “If ever a waterway deserves the attention of volunteer labour to restore it - it is the Sussex Ouse. The former waterway traverses one of the most beautiful stretches of Sussex countryside and deserves to be restored.”

What are your priorities?

Feasibility Study for the project. All further plans and priorities stem from this work. Ensuring that maximum coverage is given to the plan for the creation of a tidal barrier which will alleviate the threat of flooding and provide a more attractive river environment through Lewes.

What expertise do you have to aid project?

Advice will be sought from the Environment Agency & British Waterways where appropriate. Inland Waterways Association can offer advice based on experience of other restoration projects. The Trust is very fortunate in having the voluntary services of a qualified hydraulic and fisheries engineer with experience of similar projects. We have a very effective management team with strong administrative abilities.

What work has been done so far?

The whole length of the original river navigation system and each structure has been located, inspected and measured. Landowners have been consulted informally. It is hoped to start some refurbishment work later this year. Much preparatory administrative work has been done.

The Trust is now a formal Limited Company. More work is required to achieve Charitable status.

Is any of it open for use?

The 9 miles of tidal river from Newhaven to Barcombe Mills is navigable at certain states of the tide. Much of the navigation above Barcombe is too shallow for most boats.

Will the project ever start?

The whole project rests on an initial feasibility study. If this finds that the project cannot be designed to meet the environmental, engineering and economic criteria then consideration will be given to winding up the Trust. However we would not have committed ourselves and the Trust thus far if we did not believe that there was a high chance of eventual success.

What will happen to any funds if the Trust is wound up?

Any funds other than those specially earmarked for the feasibility study or other approved work will be returned. Membership and related fees up to the point of any winding up will not be returned.

When do you expect to finish the project?

20-25 years. NOTE: 2012 will be 200 years after the navigation was completed.

How will the river navigation works be financed?

When a worthwhile scheme, which addresses all the environmental and engineering concerns, has gained Environmental Agency, Planning and other approvals, an application for grants will be made. Other fund raising schemes with be considered. Voluntary effort will help to defray many costs.

Have you any idea of the costs involved?

Again we must wait for a detailed study - Early estimates suggest in the region of £3-5M excluding any costs for the tidal retention structure south of Lewes.

What leisure facilities do you see being introduced as part of your plans?

Walking, Educational Trips, Canoeing Better fishing Boating facilities in Lewes Possible trip-boat and restaurant boat - Sheffield Park to Polebay Lock & Lewes to Anchor Inn Barcombe.

What is District Council reaction to project?

Not yet formally submitted.

What is the next part of your plan for the Sussex Ouse?

After feasibility study - restore first lock and to secure the building of a flood/tidal relief structure South of Lewes to improve the amenities in Lewes.

How will your restoration plans affect the flooding problems in the Ouse valley?

Much will depend on the course of action decided upon by the Engironment Agency. A separate information sheet is being prepared.


Environmental Issues

What is your policy on nature conservation?

We aim to work in harmony with the environment, and not only to maintain but, where possible, to enhance wildlife habitats. We are members of the Inland Waterways Association & British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. With these links, and through contacts with environmental bodies, both voluntary and statutory, we can get help and advice.

What will be the effect of the introduction of the South Downs National Park?

The South Downs National Park has similar policies to those of the Sussex Ouse Restoration Trust. Protection and conservation of the countryside as well as making the area accessible for leisure.

Is it possible to walk the whole length of the river?

It is possible to walk along some very attractive sections of the river using public footpaths. However, this right of way does not exist all the way along the river and we must respect landowners’ privacy where no right of way exists.

How will fishing be affected?

This will be improved as the Trust has an experienced fisheries engineer as an advisor. The Trust will build Environment Agency approved fish passes at any new or refurbished weirs.

What effect will restoration have on the flora & fauna?

Retained and better managed water will provide improved conditions for the flora & fauna.

Will wildlife suffer from the restoration work?

Experience of other restoration projects shows that there can be minor localised disruption to wildlife when restoring a lock, but within a short time additional benefits to wildlife are to be seen.

Will the boats cause pollution?

All boats will have to comply with nationally accepted Codes of Practice. These require boats to be licensed, insured and to have passed the Boat Safety Scheme. This Scheme ensures that all boats are pollution free.

Is there a speed limit set in the river traffic?

It is planned for a maximum of 4mph. (Fast waking pace.) Less than this if the any wash is breaking against the bank or when passing anglers or other boats.

Will the locks etc prevent sea trout from ascending the river to lay their eggs?

Fish passes approved by the Environment Agency will be provided at any new retention structures.


Restoration Issues

How do you know that restoration is possible?

A feasibility study is planned to provide a detailed assessment of all the engineering, environmental, and economic aspects of the project. There will have to be a satisfactory outcome for all three of these aspects for the project to get underway. However we would not have come this far if a preliminary survey had not already indicated that there are no insuperable engineering problems.

Is the route protected from development?

Our proposals will be presented for consideration when District Plans are next reviewed.

Can the whole length be restored?

In theory - yes. The feasibility study may indicate that it may not be economic to restore the uppermost reaches.

What are the major problems facing complete restoration?

The feasibility study will give a complete list but planning, road crossings, diverse ownership, and finance are likely to be the main ones.

Will there be enough water in the river for boats to navigate?

The canalised river has water flowing at all times. The Environment Agency controls the flow of the water - in normal periods to feed water to Barcombe Mills reservoir from Ardingly reservoir. Although detailed hydrological studies have yet to be made, no major problems are expected. Should any back-pumping be required a feasibility study will highlight this requirement.

How many locks were there and what state are they in now?

There were 19 locks between Hamsey and Balcombe. There is no trace of 4 locks, 5 are in a very poor state and 10 structures are still standing of which 4 are in almost sound structural condition. (3 new structures will be required.)

What other structures were built with the locks?

Each lock requires a weir to maintain the level of water. (4 new weirs will be required.)

Are there any structures that have been built that will need to be altered?

The Environment Agency has built water level controlling weirs into the river. The Trust may need to build new structures to make allowances for some of these weirs.

What about road bridges?

These bridges has been recognised as providing limited air draft

  • Sharps Bridge (originally lift bridge),
  • Freshfield (originally an arched bridge),
  • East Mascalls (An alternative nearby bridge could be used), and
  • Cliffe Bridge (limited by height at some states of the tide).

How much will the river need widening? Is this possible?

Only to provide occasional turning (winding) and passing facilities for craft.

Where will you start the Restoration?

The full restoration of any part of the navigation must await the outcome of the feasibility study, as there needs to be an overall plan to minimise any disturbance to the habitat and operation of the river. Ideally the first major works would be the installation of a tidal barrage downstream of Lewes Bypass to provide and maintain a part-tidal water level up to the first lock at Hamsey.

How will the works to the canal be carried out?

Volunteers will be used wherever possible but any works requiring specialist skills will have to be carried out by engineering contractors.


Membership Information

How many members do you have?

We have approximately 100 members.

Are all your people volunteers?

The Trust is supported entirely by volunteers. As the project moves forward part-time/full-time people will be required to provide specialist skills.

How do you keep your members informed?

Newsletter, meetings, emails and this website.

How can I help?

By joining as a member. We welcome both “armchair” and active members; both show their support for the Trust’s objectives which can help to influence local authorities and those who make grants. There is a downloadable Membership Application Form which can be printed out and sent to us. Alternatively, for information on membership please email membership@sxouse.org.uk, or by writing to The Secretary at the address on the Contact Us page.

How can the general public support the restoration?

By becoming a member of Sussex Ouse Restoration Trust - understanding the advantages of such a scheme and lobbying for its implementation.

How can I find the answers to other questions?

By contacting The Secretary on the Contact Us page.