Working with nature on Brownsea

Brownsea is like Britain in miniature, and so how we manage these shores – the lagoon and sea wall, the beaches, the vulnerable cliffs - can be seen as a microcosm of how we as a country will need to work flexibly with nature around the whole of our island’s coastline.

by Reuben Hawkwood, Brownsea Head Ranger
 

An island

 
Brownsea Island is… an island! Our coast is our boundary, our fence line, our access, our defence against the sea, and of course it’s also one of the major attractions to visitors.
 
Brownsea is like Britain in miniature, and so how we manage these shores – the lagoon and sea wall, the beaches, the vulnerable cliffs - can be seen as a microcosm of how we as a country will need to work flexibly with nature around the whole of our island’s coastline.
 

Adaptable coastline

 
In 2011 we removed long lines of old coastal defences along the south and west shores – gabion baskets filled with pottery shards, palisades made from 2,600 larch poles, 110 metres of steel piles, they were unsightly, dangerous and no longer effective.
 
It’s a difficult message to get across, but we deliberately didn’t replace them. We knew that the coast here would erode more quickly, and it has. But that process of erosion has naturally provided material to build up the beach, and so the entire foreshore is now in a much more healthy, balanced and beautiful state.
 

Storm damage

Brownsea Island storm clouds gathering
There's a storm coming

 
Recent winter storms and high tides had a big effect around Brownsea’s shores, as they did around the whole of the country. Several access points to the beach – mainly wooden steps cut into the cliffs – have been damaged or lost. We’re looking at options for the future including ‘modular steps’ - movable lengths of metal stairs designed to be fixed quickly and safely into slopes of varying angles, so that they can shift as the coast shifts. We’re also thinking again about where sensibly to locate these shoreline access points in the future, moving them away from beneath vulnerable high cliffs to the obvious places - valleys and natural dips in the landscape.
 
We want the coast to be healthy and adaptable, shaped by natural forces.