Yesterday I made my first visit to Selsey and Selsey Bill in West Sussex. I had been working nearby and had half an hour or so to spare, so I made may way to this most southerly point in Sussex.
The final stretch of road ran through what was effectively a large, suburban-style estate on the road to nowhere with total coverage by bungalows, semis and the occasional grander structure, all with their nurseryman’s catalogue gardens. Chichester, the nearest large urban area, is some nine miles away. The gardens are more wildlife friendly though than the vast open fields spreading across the flat Manhood Peninsula to the north of Selsey.
Why, I wondered, had the planners allowed the end of this thrust of land to be covered in houses. Apart from the beach there seem to be few places to walk, though there is Pagham Harbour not to far distant by car.
The Bill itself is an extraordinary place. The road just runs out and there is a single metal bar to stop cars driving into the sea, plus a litter of tired street furniture and wonky fences. If people didn’t live there, the place would benefit from a good tsunami.
Immediately to the east of the dead end there is a playing field style open space, but everywhere else the houses and gardens encroach as closely as they can to the pebbly, breakwatered beach. Strange constructions of concrete like a parkour course allow passage on foot around the private properties and, at one place, there are some strange eyeless amphorae made of concrete and beach pebbles – perhaps an attempt to create a Mediterranean feel to the place. They reminded me of Easter Island moai staring inscrutably out to sea from their platforms.
Despite this wrecked landscape, the sun was warm, the sea blue with its waves eternally marching towards the shore. I even made a few wildlife records including some tiny wrack flies, Thoracochaeta zosterae, in washed up seaweed. The most southerly invertebrate records in Sussex no doubt.
Selsey Bill has a sadness about it and it is a kind of monument to our corporate inability to look after our own environment. It epitomises our disastrous tendency to want to cover memorable places with houses as though the residents can gain some sort of apotheosis by owning a bit of what might otherwise be a wonderful wild place (or the middle of a potato field). How very peculiar that the most southerly part of our area, the Land’s End of Sussex, should be part of somebody’s garden.
I think I shall start a campaign to forbid any building within half a mile of the sea (ports and harbours excepted). The state should buy existing houses as they are vacated and demolish them, allowing the land to re-wild in its own way but enabling the public to go there.