Cuckmere & Pevensey Levels

Winding its way through East Sussex to the coast, the River Cuckmere has a colourful history as well as some dark secrets.

About the river

The River Cuckmere rises in the High Weald of East Sussex and flows through the South Downs to reach the English Channel at Cuckmere Haven.  It is divided into three sub-catchments: the Cuckmere, the Pevensey Levels and the Combe Haven.

The Cuckmere and Pevensey Levels catchment consists of the rural landscape of the High and Low Weald and incorporates the iconic landscape of the South Downs National Park. Within the catchment is the town of Hailsham and the coastal towns of Seaford, Eastbourne, Bexhill and Hastings.

The South East Rivers Trust hosts the Catchment Partnership and is developing a Storymap to showcase the area and its projects.

What makes it special?

The coastal location of the River Cuckmere gave it a pivotal role in the smuggling trade of the 19th century. Cuckmere Haven was a particularly popular landing spot with smuggling gangs operating between England and France. It was also a key strategic location for the British shores in World War Two and you will still find evidence of this today in the form of pillboxes.

Aside from its rich history, the catchment of the Cuckmere hosts a mosaic of different habitats and is a haven for wildlife. Ancient woodlands have protected the headwaters in the upper catchment for hundreds of years and their flora and fauna demonstrates their undisturbed hydrology. The Cuckmere catchment is also host to the Pevensey Levels; a grazing marsh covering 4,300 hectares. It is one of the most environmentally important wetland areas in southern England, being of national and international importance for its biological diversity, including the fen raft spider.


  • fisheries
  • habitat
  • flooding
  • pollution