East Sussex County Council has declined to back the Motion for the Ocean — a declaration of support for “ocean recovery,” which has secured the support of 22 local authorities elsewhere in England. 

The motion was put to members at a full council meeting on Tuesday (February 6), after being tabled by Green Party councillor Julia Hilton. 

It called on the council to both establish its own ocean and river recovery action plan and write to the government requesting measures to put oceans and rivers into “net recovery” by 2030.

But the motion failed to secure the support of the council’s Conservative administration, which argued it called on the council to replicate work the authority is already undertaking as part of its Local Nature Recovery Strategy (LNRS).

This view was put forward by Cllr Claire Dowling, East Sussex County Council’s lead member for transport and environment, pictured, who said:

“I think everyone in this chamber can agree that our rivers and oceans are extremely important and play a very, very important part in everyone’s lives. But this council does not need a motion to tell us what we should be doing when we are already doing it. 

“This motion is asking us to duplicate work that is either being undertaken or has already been agreed to be undertaken through either the LNRS, biodiversity netgain or continuing our work with partners such as the Sussex Nature Partnership.

“We have an action plan already. In fact we were one of the first councils to publish one of the first biodiversity reports. It is on our website.”

She added:

“Yes, 20 councils, ranging from town, city, district and unitary have signed up, but they have all modified their motions to a greater or lesser extent. We don’t know how advanced their own strategies are and in many cases, especially the smaller ones, they don’t have the strategies in place that we do, so they are looking to this to show that they are going to embed it in everything they do. 

“We already do that. It is embedded and will continue to be embedded.”

Cllr Hilton argued the council could do more, however. 

She said:

“I want to thank officers for the briefing note outlining all the very good partnership work already going on around the health of our rivers and seas. It is particularly pleasing to learn ocean and river health will be considered in the nature recovery strategy, a huge and important piece of work across the county.

“I commend the work of the Sussex Nature Partnership, which has hosted a fantastic learning community of skills and expertise chaired across the county. I have had the pleasure of attending some of those sessions when I was cabinet member for environment in Hastings and I learned a huge amount.

“However there are gaps in the current work on ensuring a healthy future of our oceans and rivers, as well as their role in the blue economy and the role of blue carbon in sequestering carbon emissions.”

She added:

“That’s why we need a commitment at the very least to an outline plan, to keep the requirements to consider the health of our rivers and seas at the forefront of all key strategy documents going forward.”

Ultimately, however, the council as a whole did not vote in support of the motion.