Urgent action needed at our coast

Formby is at risk of coastal erosion
Published : 10 Nov 2015 Last update : 12 Nov 2015

We’re calling for the Government and agencies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to act now to ensure the coast is ready for the enormous challenges presented by severe storms and rising sea levels.

Our research has revealed that 12,500 new homes and businesses have been built in coastal areas at risk of significant erosion or flooding over the last decade despite a range of national guidance strongly advising against such developments.

And, only one in three coastal planning authorities in England have the most up-to-date planning policy in place to deal with rising sea levels and more frequent storms.

Winter storms wreak havoc

In 2013 and 2014, the coastline around the UK was battered by a series of storms and high tides which resulted in levels of erosion and flooding experts would usually expect to see every five to 15 years.

In the coming years extreme weather events are likely to become more frequent, affecting people and natural habitats putting coastal wildlife at risk.

Our approach

In our new report  'shifting shores – playing our part at the coast', we are calling for a bold and imaginative approach to coastline management, involving an understanding of how nature works, moving towards adaptation and away from maintaining engineered defences, where appropriate, while being sensitive to community needs. 

We’ll be putting this approach into practice with a commitment to have plans in place for 80 of our coastal areas by 2020.

'We know how difficult taking the adaptive approach can be, despite all the good policy guidance that now exists,' said Phil Dyke, our coastal marine adviser. 'But action is now needed by all coastal stakeholders to manage the threats to our beautiful and diverse coast to prevent us drifting into a future where our coast is a rim of concrete.'

Managing coastal change

Where coastal areas are at risk, we also want to ensure there is space and land to help with a managed realignment; rolling back and relocating buildings, infrastructure, shoreline and habitats.

We also favour an approach where large areas of the coast are viewed as a whole to create more joined up and better managed stretches of coastline. 

We want to work in partnership with a wide range of local landowners, communities and groups to deliver a joined up approach to managing coastal change, which works for all the parties involved.

'The harsh truth is that our natural environment is in poor health – wildlife is in decline, over-worked soils are being washed out to sea and climate change is becoming an increasing threat,' explained Peter Nixon,director of land, landscape and nature.

'The complex and ever-changing challenges we face on the coastline can only be addressed by working in partnership with others. We can’t and won’t ever succeed on our own.

'Above all we need to understand the forces of nature at work, so that we can all make well-informed choices about whether and where to continue maintaining hard defences or to adapt to and work with natural processes.'

Skernaghan Point on the Islandmagee Peninsula, County Antrim, Northern Ireland.

Living with shifting shores 

That coast that surrounds us is constantly changing. Rather than fighting these changes, we've been taking them in our stride.

Shifting shores report

Our shifting shores report is calling for an imaginative approach to coastline management.