Meet Chichester Harbour Master Richard Craven
PUBLISHED: 10:32 28 August 2020
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Chichester Harbour Conservancy director and harbour master Richard Craven oversees the whole 28 square miles, weighing the demands of recreation and leisure with conservation and landscape protection
“Sailing across the Atlantic and Pacific, you get a much better feeling for the smallness and fragility of the world and your impact on it. Spending a lot of time on a small boat leads to those sorts of reflections. It’s given me an insight into the fragility of the environment which is all too evident sometimes in the harbour.”
Richard Craven practically has salt water running through his veins. A keen sailor since his boyhood growing up in East Wittering, he pursued a career as a commercial fisherman “because it was a chance to get paid to be on the water.” Now he’s the harbour master at Chichester Harbour, a fascinating role largely due to the unique character and requirements of this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Chichester Harbour Conservancy is the statutory authority for Chichester Harbour, set up by an Act of Parliament in 1971, which manages the harbour and surrounding areas. The conservancy focuses on recreation and leisure, conservation and landscape protection, running an annual programme of events plus educational outreach. As well as Richard, there’s an AONB manager, who oversees the environmental work, and a deputy harbour manager, as well as a support and maintenance team.
The tidal inlets, saltmarsh and mud flats of Chichester Harbour provide a haven for around 55,000 birds in all, including Brent geese, little egrets and dunlin. There is also a thriving colony of common seals. The needs of all of these species need to be balanced with those of the more than 10,000 people paying harbour dues - “and that’s not even counting all the people who just come for a day or a week,” says Richard. “Everybody is welcome to come and enjoy the harbour.”
One of the conservancy’s great success stories recently has been the construction of a tern raft in Thorney Deeps to help support breeding, after the harbour’s population declined due to rising tidal levels, human disturbance and predation by foxes. Last year 26 common tern chicks hatched: “But that in itself is quite sobering, that a tiny little bit of habitat created on a few square metres is so successful. It just shows how difficult it is becoming for these creatures to live their natural lives. I think that tern raft is the most successful breeding site for the common tern in the whole of the Solent area this year, so it just shows the pressure they are under,” says Richard. And the landscape itself is changing: saltmarsh is a tremendously valuable ecological resource, storing even more carbon than the rainforest. All over the world these habitats are under threat and since 1946 Chichester Harbour has lost 60 per cent of its saltmarsh.
The harbour is an important area for scientific research and the conservancy regularly collaborates on academic studies, with an investigation into microplastics culminating last year in a symposium led by oceanographer and broadcaster Dr Helen Czerski. Now researchers are investigating the effect of endocrine disruptors found in everyday products on marine species.
Learning from this rich habitat is not confined to universities: the conservancy offers outreach sessions to schools and families too. “We try to nurture the next generation of guardians for the harbour,” says Richard. “Part of our success is that our stakeholders, the harbour users, are very much involved in the decision-making process.”
Support the harbour Two charities work alongside the conservancy: the Friends of Chichester Harbour provides work parties and funding, and runs a programme of events for members
Chichester Harbour Trust works to conserve and protect the area for public benefit by acquiring land, sites and buildings within the Chichester Harbour Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
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