CONSERVATIONISTS are concerned one of England's most famous wetlands could be lost forever - due to flooding.

Severe flooding has left locals worried that the iconic natural landscape at Cuckmere Haven will be lost forever - and they believe the Environment Agency is to blame.

Cuckmere Haven, a floodplain in West Sussex where the meandering River Cuckmere meets the Channel in the shadow of the Seven Sisters Cliffs, was submerged last week after heavy rains.

Dramatic photos of the flooding show the oxbow lakes and meanders for which the area is famous completely underwater, in what residents fear is a sign of things to come.

For years, local authorities have artificially replenished the shingle on nearby Seaford Beach - a tourist hotspot - which quickly gets washed away and carried into the Cuckmere Estuary by longshore drift.

Until recently the Environment Agency was proactive in clearing the river mouth twice a year o allow the tide to flow back through and ease the pressure on the floodplain behind it.

After 2010, clearance was halved to once a year - and now, the shingle has not been cleared since 2017.

Local photographer Wayne Spring believe that this change caused the severe flooding of Cuckmere Haven this week - and are fearful that the area's vibrant biodiversity could be threatened if flooding becomes more regular.

Wayne said: "This is some of the most beautiful scenery Sussex has to offer, and it contains a huge variety of wildlife.

"Kingfishers, Herons, Egrets, Canadian Geese, Teals, Swans and Otters all inhabit Cuckmere Haven. It is at risk of being lost."

Some even claim that the Environment Agency's change in strategy is part of a concerted effort by local authorities to flood the area to reduce the strain on other rivers nearby - although it claims there is little link between shingle clearances and flooding.

An Environment Agency spokesman said: "The Environment Agency is investing £2.6 billion in flood and coastal-erosion protection between 2015 and 2021, helping to protect at least 300,000 homes across England.

"We do not believe there is an increased flood-risk at Cuckmere.

"When necessary, however, we will clear shingle from the mouth of the river to reduce flood-risk to properties, but it's not as simple as saying clearing the shingle reduces the chances of flooding.

"All the time we interfere, we're preventing the area from returning to its natural state."

Cuckmere, which is part of the South Downs National Park, has become a hotspot for controversy in recent years.

The residents of a series of scenic cottages on its shoreline - which have been used in television programmes like Luther and Mr Holmes - have been waging a well-publicised campaign demanding that the local authorities pay for sea defences.

The group, Cuckmere SOS, was told to raise the money themselves.