There’s so much to learn about the Ouse; its rich history, topography, ecology and water quality to name a few.

Our aim is to provide accessible means for people to learn about the river’s health and create a better understanding of what it needs to thrive and be resilient. We want to share knowledge and resources to educate and empower. 

Sadly the Ouse faces a multitude of threats and challenges in the immediate and long term. In a nutshell The Adur and Ouse Catchment Partnership say it best:

‘The natural water environment of the Adur & Ouse Catchment is complex, consisting of small headwater streams, spring fed chalk-streams, wetlands, ponds, aquifers, estuaries and marine habitats. All of these are under pressure but the issues vary widely as do the solutions.’

It takes a LOT of dedication and research to learn about the complexities involved. Knowing where to look for information is difficult, deciphering datasets and terminology is beyond many of us – believe us we’re constantly swatting up to try to get our heads round it all!

Ouse Overview

Ouse Cherry Lane Balcombe
Ouse north Isfield
Ouse at Newhaven
Grey Mullet

The Ouse is approximately 35 miles long starting from Slaugham in Mid Sussex, travelling through Balcombe and into East Sussex into Sheffield Park, through Isfield and Barcombe, through Lewes and to Newhaven where it meets the sea. The Ouse comprises a 250 square metre catchment area including 750 miles of streams, rivers and brooks spreading across the valley like a tree.

White Legged Damselfly Photo: Nick Jarvis’

The Ouse is an important spawning ground for Sea Trout and home to other notable species including Sea Lamprey, Mullet, Eels as well as a huge variety of birds, mammals and insects.

The river has a rich heritage  supporting industry, shipping and transport of goods. As such it is a heavily modified river which has experienced extensive straightening, deepening and diversions including the addition of weirs, locks and flood prevention measures.

1923 postcard
Shipping wharf
Wier at Isfield

National context

Milly River Poouse

In the past few years we’ve experienced unprecedented public awareness and press  highlighting the poor state of the UK’s river and coastal water quality. A few key events have helped raise the profile both nationally and regionally:

Surfers against Sewage protest, Worthing

The UK is ranked 25th out of 35 EU countries for coastal water quality and only 16% of waterways meet good ecological status.

Well established national organisations such as Surfers Against Sewage, River Action UK and The Rivers Trust are being joined by a huge number of new community-led initiatives to try to tackle the crisis on a localised level. We have observed the power and effectiveness they are having on raising awareness, addressing the issues and creating community cohesion. Power to the people!

Threats and Challenges

Scaynes Hill water treatment works
Polluted river at Barcombe Mills Photo: Mary Parker
Winterbourne A27 road run off

In the Lewes District the River Ouse and its tributaries are no exception to the threats:

  • Of the 25 water bodies on the River Ouse, 13 (52%) fail to reach the Good Ecological Status objectives of the Water Framework Directive as a result of either Poor or Moderate levels of phosphate
  • Recently published figures by Southern Water detail overspills in the Lewes District occurring a combined total of 10,524 hours during 2022 lasting over 956 spills
  • Drainage and wastewater systems were originally designed and built to convey wastewater from homes and businesses, and some systems also were combined with surface water drainage to convey rainfall from a 1 in 30 year storm. However, with further development and infrastructure, and climate change, many systems are now too small to cope with the demands
  • The lower catchment from Lewes to Newhaven and Seaford has experienced severe flooding such as in the year 2000 and climate forecasting predicts frequent and increased risks of flooding to urban and rural areas this century
  • Increased water supply and infrastructure demand forecasted through housing developments
  • A complex cocktail of pollutants are entering our waterways from urban rain run off, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and products that go down our drain
  • Invasive species such as Himalayan Balsam which deteriorates banks and smothering native vegetation
  • man made barriers such as locks and weirs restrict and alter movement of water and species

We have key agencies working hard to protect, enhance and invest in the Ouse primarily those that make up the Adur and Ouse Catchment Partnership: The Adur and Ouse River trust, Lewes District Council, IFCA, Adur Farmers, South Downs National Park, Sussex Wildlife Trust, The Environment Agency, Brighton University, RSPB, Sussex Flow Initiative and South East Water. We all have a responsibility and can ALL get involved in making a difference for our river.

"Learn from a river; obstacles may force it to change it's course, but never it's destination." Matshona Dhliwayo


Contact Us
We’re keen to hear from anyone interested in being involved. Email us: info@loveourouse.org