The coastline in the South West of England saw more drama than Coronation Street or EastEnders this winter. Dramatic pictures made for a compelling story as the coast was hit hard by the worst weather in living memory. National Trust coast and marine adviser Tony Flux reflects on some of the lessons from the storms 100 days after the last big weather event on Valentine’s Day:
It can be quite tricky to get your head around coastal change. Often the stretches of coast that we love to visit will appear to be changing very little during our lifetime. We think of the coast as a constant; a place that we know well.
And yet the winter storms of 2013/2014 showed how coastal change can be pretty dramatic. Our coastline has been changing for millions of years and generation after generation has had to cope and live with this change. What became a game-changer this winter was the speed of change and the power of nature to wreak havoc.
In a very short space of time we had three one in fifty year (1:50) events which cumulatively equate to a one in two-hundred year event (1:200) bringing real drama to our coastline. The coasts that we love are the way they are because of constant change – erosion and renewal gives the seaside a vibrancy that draws millions of us every year.
Railway lines hanging over a ferocious sea, car parks disappearing before our eyes and access to beaches lost showed in real time how we need to think about the changes coming our way. With more extreme weather in the decades ahead and sea levels predicted to rise by up to 86 cm in the 21st century, planning for the huge changes ahead is vital.
Having a clear strategy to adapt our coastline has been the focus of the Trust’s work in the last decade. There is no point putting footpaths back the way that they were only for the sea to wash them away soon after. Buildings and car parks may also need to be relocated before it’s too late.
The National Trust’s ‘Shifting Shores’ approach has been about long-term planning, working with nature and not against it, working with coastal communities to explore ways to adapt to change and even creating new coastal habitats. The big lessons of the winter storms reinforced the importance of working with natural processes and not automatically defaulting to defence (build and repair) and most importantly the need to start adaptation now.