EA and the Nature Reserve


We speak to Ian Nunn, operations manager for the Environment Agency (EA) about their work in conjunction with the Rye Harbour Nature Reserve.

Tell us about yourself

I grew up on the family farm in East Sussex, which is where I worked before joining the Environment Agency. I’ve worked for the Environment Agency for thirty years, having started in the field and worked my way up, studying for an civil engineering degree along the way. I’m now operations manager and my job involves covering flood and coastal risk management for Kent, South London and East Sussex – including here in Rye. I manage four field operations teams and two asset management teams.

My teams operate and maintain coastal and flood defence assets (which includes things such as flood walls, and even the Thames Barrier).

My commitment is to significantly reduce the risk of flooding and its impact to people, property and infrastructure. I enjoy creating, building and maintaining things that make a difference to people’s lives.

What do you do at Rye Harbour?

At Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, we’ve been working with Sussex Wildlife Trust on what has happened with Rye Harbour Farm, which was low grade farmland, bought by the EA. Because the houses at Rye Harbour are a long way back from the sea, we decided to adopt a secondary defence approach, using clay from the farm to build a flood wall embankment, behind where the information cabins are. At the same time, we installed culverts to manage the flow of water from the tidal river, creating inter-tidal habitats and a wetland environment.

Moving the shingle

Tell us about moving the shingle

Along the coastline from Fairlight to Nook Point, you’ve got shingle beach, so you get longshore drift. We move the shingle to maintain coastal protection. Twenty years ago, from October to March, you’d get loads of smaller lorries, carrying shingle. Now we have bigger trucks, but they come much less often, so the impact is lower. The shingle is recycled to Pett.


What has changed since you’ve been working with the reserve?

There is much more interaction with the public these days, and visitor numbers are colossal.

How does the Environment Agency make decisions about what to do in any given area?

We make 100 year shoreline management plans, or SMPs, which get reviewed after 25 and 50 years. SMPs give you flexibility, but with a reasonably certain future. Our current policy at Rye is ‘hold the line’.

What’s your biggest challenge?

There’s never enough funding to do everything we want to do. We compete for funding with every other part of the country, so the amount we get is a constantly changing, depending on what’s happening elsewhere.

Flood management needs long term investment.

What do you like about your job?

I enjoy my work. Difficult decisions have to be made, and made logically. We have to keep an eye on the bigger picture.

How would you characterise the relationship between the Environment Agency and Sussex Wildlife Trust?

It’s a really good one, based on trust. We take a collaborating approach with the nature reserve. The ‘flood defence vs environment’ can be a polarised debate. What we’ve achieved here is that we can work together for the benefit of both.

Saltmarsh is an excellent coastal defence.

Are you keen on wildlife?

I’m not hugely knowledgeable, but I know a little because of my agricultural background. I like going for long walks! My wife has been frustrated by the lack of loos at Rye Harbour, so she’s really looking forward to the Discovery Centre being open. I think it’s is a great concept.

You’ve been running here?

Yes, I took up running quite recently, and ran the Ekiden Relay with a group of friends. I also did my first marathon at Hastings recently.

Have you enjoyed working with Barry?

He has been fantastic for the reserve. He’s a legend. We don’t always see eye to eye, we have robust debates, but we work together very well.

Image Credits: Emma Chaplin , Sussex Wildlife Trust .

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