Coping with Brexit will be crucial to the future of Pagham Harbour, its site manager has said.
Steve Webster, of the RSPB, said the impact of Britain’s departure from the European Union was uncertain on the various environmental laws which protect the local nature reserve.
The wetland which runs from Pagham to Sidlesham is a recognised site under the Ramsar international convention to protect the valuable wildlife habitats around the globe.
It is also a site of special scientific interest and a special protection area because of the range of species which live there.
But Mr Webster said it was unknown how much difference the UK being outside of the EU would make.
The RSPB had been told the relevant laws would carry on but no-one knew how the situation would develop.
“It’s all very well having the legislation but it needs teeth and it needs funding,” he told the reserve’s annual open meeting with the community last week.
The meeting was told by a West Sussex County Council officer the authority had been informed that leaving Europe would affect 80 per cent of the work of the government’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
“That makes it even more important that the community stands up and says about the harbour,” said Mr Webster. “It is essential that we engage with local communities and local parish councils.”
The RSPB is preparing a new management plan for the harbour to take effect from next March in its role as the manager of the local nature reserve for the county council.
Its current plan was extended after it expired two years ago to enable upgrading of the harbour’s visitor facilities to be completed.
The latest draft of its replacement includes the objective to maintain the present permanent wet and dry grasslands and to ensure the vegetative shingle survives.
The plan also seeks to ensure the harbour can continue to thrive among the increased housebuilding which is proposed nearby in Pagham.
Mr Webster showed how the number of visitors to the harbour had grown from 12,000 in 2016 to 15,000 this year. They were all very satisfied or satisfied with their time there.
The RSPB was proud of the harbour’s success in rare little terns using an island for nesting. This year had seen 21 nesting pairs with 13 fledged chicks compared to 13 pairs and 11 chicks in 2016.
“Pagham is one of the best breeding sites on the south coast for them,” he said.
“We have put in permanent anti-predator fence and this has been very successful.
“We did some extensions to it last year because we were finding birds nesting outside the area because of the numbers coming in.”
Sandwich terns and black-headed gulls were also breeding in the reserve in growing numbers. However, the colony of common terns had declined slightly in the past year, he said.