Our Changing Coastline

National Trust Coast and Marine Adviser, Phil Dyke, reflects on the impact of the recent storms on the coastline.

The National Trust cares for one in ten miles of the coast of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This includes many of our favourite beaches and dramatic cliff top walks, as well as havens for wildlife such sand dune and salt marsh.

The succession of dramatic storms and surges that have battered our coast since early December 2013 continue to have a huge impact on peoples live. We sympathise with people and businesses that have been affected, as indeed we have been affected ourselves and are grateful for the huge efforts of public authorities and the emergency services in helping restore some semblance of order.

What is becoming clear, however, is that whilst in many places our coastline has shown itself to be remarkably resilient there are places where the changes have been so dramatic that returning things to their former state seems increasingly unlikely.

Coastal erosion and flooding are two dramatic ways in which the power of the sea shows its force at the shoreline. It is of course these very forces that shape the natural beauty of our coast; sustaining much of our coastal wildlife, creating the beautiful coast we all derive health and well-being benefits from when visit our favourite places and lets not forget generating significant economic benefits to rural coastal communities and resort towns

The immediate priority for public authorities and ourselves as landowners remains to ensure things are made safe, repair the damage where practicable and support the clean-up process so that our beaches and coastal paths can be accessed once again. However we need to be mindful also that these storms have illustrated quite graphically the points we raised in 2005 in our Shifting Shores report (2007 in Wales, 2008 in Northern Ireland) about the need to plan for the long term (over 20, 50 100 year time frames).

Future forecasts suggest with increasing confidence (near certainty in fact) that climate change will lead to continued sea-level rise and extreme weather events, in turn accelerating the scale and pace of coastal change.

Through its Shifting Shores approach the National Trust is raising a discussion and arguing for the areas of largely undeveloped coast (approx 70% of the coast of England, Wales and Northern Ireland) to be able to flex and evolve in a natural manner.

In many cases however and over previous decades there have, even on the undeveloped coast, been many interventions through constructing ad hoc seawalls and coastal defences. These structures often lead to the loss (through beach lowering or interference with long-shore drift) of the very sand and shingle that creates the beaches that the defences were being installed to protect.

So as we begin to address the aftermath of the recent storms we will be looking at our coastal places and considering how to adapt the way we manage them to better embrace the idea of working with not against nature. Where ever possible and overtime we will seek to ensure that our facilities, that enable so many people to gain such pleasure from visiting the coast, are at reduced risk of coastal erosion and flooding in the future

Our Shifting Shores approach means urging Governments, local authorities, public agencies and local communities to take opportunities to:

o Plan for the long term when considering repairs/replacing damaged structures or indeed locating new developments
o Work in partnership with ourselves and local communities to find solutions to adapt to a changing coastline
o Adopt the principle of working with the forces of nature rather than against wherever possible.

The National Trust cares for 742 miles of coastline in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – its first ever property, Dina Oleu in North Wales was on the coast, and it launched its Neptune Coastline Campaign in 1965, helping to protect the special places along the coast.

2 thoughts on “Our Changing Coastline

  1. Adding to what Ash says above, the rapid changes are and will continue to be the ones which will be harder to evaluate. Us humans can do all we can to adapt whilst the wildlife isn’t always as fortunate. There are uncertain times ahead, of that there is no doubt.

    Wishing the NT all the best for the future.


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