Severe storms and rising sea levels are creating enormous challenges for coastal areas, according to the National Trust.
And the conservation organisation is calling for urgent action from Government and agencies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure these areas are ready for the future.
A total of 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, a report for the conservation charity has found.
The Trust also says that 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.
In 2013 and 2014, the coastline 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.
And, according to the organisation, in the coming years extreme weather events are likely to become more frequent, affecting people and natural habitats putting coastal wildlife at risk.
In its new report – Shifting Shores – playing our part at the coast - the Trust calls 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.
This includes ending the “ineffective cycle of continually rebuilding hard sea defences and instead relocating buildings, infrastructure and habitats to safe areas further inland at some at risk locations”.
The Trust, which cares for 775 miles of coastline for the nation, will be putting this approach into practice with its commitment to have plans in place for 80 of the coastal areas it cares for by 2020.
Phil Dyke, Coastal Marine Adviser at the National Trust says: “We know from our own experience how difficult taking the adaptive approach can be, despite all the good policy guidance that now exists. 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.
“We need to actively transition from maintaining old defences to working with natural processes, where and when it’s appropriate, to conserve the beauty and wildlife of our coastline.
“Recreating a naturally functioning shoreline will free us from the sea defence cycle of construct, fail and reconstruct and lessen the impacts of severe weather.”
At coastal areas at risk the Trust also wants to ensure there is space and land to help with a managed realignment; rolling back and relocating buildings, infrastructure, shoreline and habitats.
The Trust also favours a landscape-scale style approach, where large areas of the coast are viewed as a whole to create more joined up and better managed stretches of coastline. It is also committed to working 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.
Peter Nixon, Director of Land, Landscape and Nature at the National Trust says: “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.
“The Trust has always been about much more than simply looking after the place it manages.
“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.”
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