All On Board, a campaign seeking to position the West Sussex coast as key watersports destination for the South East, has organised a series of trips for paddle boarding coaches to learn about conservation.

Coastal West Sussex boasts 40 miles of coastline with beautiful beaches, harbours, lakes, canals and rivers with a stunning backdrop of the South Downs. Since the pandemic began, there has been a massive surge in interest in outdoor activities such as walking, cycling and paddle sports.

All on Board project leader, Samantha Smithson, commented: “This increased interest in the great outdoors and the beauty of our natural coastal areas and river ways has led to more water users on our rivers and coast. We love that everyone wants to get on the water now, but we also want to protect our local natural environments from the damage that such visits can potentially cause. I wanted to see what could be done to help raise awareness.

“Speaking with Laura Brook from the Sussex Wildlife Trust, it became clear that the wild saltmarsh and mudflats of the Adur Estuary in Shoreham are important habitats with valuable biodiversity, from fish nurseries to flocks of overwintering birds. The Estuary is a designated SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) but it’s also very popular with a wide range of users, including paddlers and wingfoilers.

“By ensuring users of the Estuary know how important it is for wildlife and how to look after it, we can minimise the potential impacts on this unique natural habitat. We decided that if we could engage and inspire local watersports businesses about conservation, they would be able to champion the Estuary and its wildlife and spread the message to their customers.”

Expert ornithologist Tony Benton from the Shoreham District Ornithological Society volunteered to share his knowledge.

Samantha continued: “We want to make sure that river paddlers can enjoy our beautiful wildlife and this is perfectly possible as long as we know how to paddle without impact. I am delighted that there was so much interest from local watersports businesses. Everyone is keen to learn how they can spread positive messages to the customers that they bring on river trips.”

On Wednesday 31 March the first of three paddle trips was held. Samantha and four local paddleboarding coaches joined Tony Benton for a guided tour of the River Adur at Shoreham to learn about the very unique SSSI and the RSPB Nature Reserve. Dave from the Sussex Yacht Club kindly provided a safety boat so Tony could share his knowledge in comfort and safety.

 “If we can teach our customers how to protect our river wildlife while they paddle, it will keep our rivers full of wildlife – it’s a win for wellbeing on all sides.” says Sasha from Moxie Unleashed.

Lucy from the Adur Centre commented: “Tony was full of insightful information and give us some great resources including a bird identification sheet. This will be great for taking children out on the river – we had no idea that the mud was so special.”

“It was really useful, and I feel more able to give my customers the right advice when paddling the river. We generally only paddle at high tide, which is less likely to cause impact as we don’t walk across the mud to launch” says Tony from the Kitesurfing and SUP Academy.

Samantha added: “Before Tony’s guided tour, I had no idea the mud flats here on the Adur River were such a major stopping point for migratory birds and their only chance to stock up on food energy. That mud is jam packed with energy-giving food.”

When birds are disturbed, they take to the air and use up vital energy reserves. The simple act of keeping distance and sitting down if you are stand up paddleboarding can be less threatening and can save birds from unnecessary flight.

All on Board has produced a guide for river paddlers ‘How to be an environmentally conscious paddler’ which will soon be available on the Experience West Sussex website:

Paddle boarding trip 31.03.2021
Photo credit: James McDonald