Seven Sisters Voluntary Marine Conservation Area
Seven Sisters and Royal Sovereign Shoal have been identified as key areas in need of full marine protection by the Your Seas Your Voice campaign.
Seven Sisters is already protected from bottom fishing such as trawling, but it may be possible to protect the area from other damaging activities, such as oil dredging and fishing using other gear. With these laws in place, the reef and diverse wildlife here could recover from the devastating human activites carried out for centuries. There has never been a better time to safeguard our seas. The project, part of the Marine Conservation Society, is an essential process to ensure that the current government-led plans to set up Marine Conservation Zones in the UK take into account the views of the public.
Via the website, you can nominate areas you wish to protect, and vote for or against the 73 sites that Marine Conservation Society has recommended. There are currently 7000 votes for MCS sites, and more than 1100 nominations for other sites, but many more votes are required if the public are to have a say. Every vote is a vote for a safe and productive future for our seas. The more received, the more powerful our voice will be. The collated data will be sent to the regional Marine Conservation Zone project managers in England so it is important to reach as many people as possible.
The Seven Sisters Voluntary Marine Conservation Area (SSVMCA) is one of the few remaining lengths of undeveloped coast in South East England. The magnificent chalk cliffs are matched by a secret underwater world of chalk ridges and gullies. The area stretches from the Martello Tower at Seaford to the Wish Tower at Eastbourne, and stretches from the cliff top out to sea for 2km. It was set up firstly to protect the marine environment but also to facilitate education, research and recreation.
At the base of the cliffs and at the mouth of the Cuckmere river are shingle beaches. As the tide goes out, it reveals a rocky platform, carved into rock pools and channels by the action of the sea. This area between land and sea is a tough place to live, and only special plants and animals like barnacles, crabs, snails and seaweeds can survive the exposure and cold and crashing waves.
Below the low tide mark, the gullies become deeper, supporting a rich and diverse marine life of shellfish, anemones, sponges and fish. Further out to sea massive blocky sandstone reefs and shipwrecks are surrounded by miles of sand and pebble seabed. The reefs and wrecks attract huge shoals of fish and support special animal communities. Rays and flatfish glide over the sand feeding on the rich sea life. Rock pools are exposed at low water and are fascinating to explore, but please remember to follow the seashore code.
Make sure that you check tide times before you go – in some places the sea will come right up to the cliffs at high tide. Take care on the rocks, especially low on the shore where the gullies are deep and often hidden by slippery mats of seaweed. There are access points along the shore via footpaths or public spaces at the eastern end of Seaford Beach, Hope Gap (via Seaford Head Nature Reserve), Cuckmere Haven (via Seven sisters Country Park), Birling Gap and the western end of Eastbourne seafront.
The importance of this piece of coastline has long been recognised. It has been protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its wildlife and geology since 1953, as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) since 1966, and as the UK’s first Heritage Coast since 1973. However, none of these protections extend beyond the low water mark. Underwater surveys in the 1980s revealed rich and exciting marine habitats and wildlife on the shore and underwater. Local communities and organisations all agreed that these largely unseen marine riches also deserved special recognition, and so the SSVMCA was born.
SSVMCA Code of Conduct
Please use only use only approved or designated access points and parking places.
Beware of unfamiliar beach litter – contact the coastguard (999) if you find any suspicious looking objects.
The cliffs can be very dangerous – keep away from their foot and edge.
If walking below the cliffs between Cow Gap and Birling Gap, or Cuckmere Haven and Birling Gap, check the tide tables, do not go alone, wear stout shoes and let someone know where you’re going.
Marine wildlife is very precious, so please
- Take photos, not live specimens
- Avoid trampling and disturbance
- Carefully replace any overturned rocks to their original position
Remember this is a beautiful and unspoiled area. Local people depend on it for their livelihoods, tourists come to enjoy it. Please respect the area as well as the interests of the users and visitors.
The Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 helps to protect these important marine areas.