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Coastal Management

The UK coastline is shaped by interactions between complex social, ecological, and physical processes. Increasing coastal flood and erosion risk is a major climate adaptation challenge. This POSTnote examines coastal management in England, associated issues and how an adaptive approach can better prepare the country for uncertain future sea level rise under climate change.

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Many of the UK’s communities, cultural heritage sites, important ecosystems, infrastructure and other assets are located on its coastline and estuaries. Coastal management policy seeks to reduce the risk to these from coastal change (flooding and erosion), but climate change is increasing storminess and will drive further sea level rise, which will increase hazard on the coast.

Coastal management is a devolved policy area, guided in England by the Flooding and Coastal Erosion Risk Management (FCERM) strategy, published in 2020. Alongside this, a range of policy areas from planning law to building codes govern activity on the coast, and affect how risk is managed. Non-statutory Shoreline Management Plans (SMP) guide management of the coast at a local level. However, in practice many SMP actions are not funded and have not been implemented for some sections of the coast. The FCERM promotes the use of coastal habitats such as salt marsh as a more economically and ecologically sustainable approach to coastal protection when compared to traditional defences such as sea walls. However, questions remain around the long-term capacity of these habitats to protect the coast, particularly with higher sea level rise (above 0.5m). Future sea level rise is an active research area, with significant uncertainties around it’s rate and magnitude. An adaptive management pathway approach is increasingly favoured to account for this uncertainty, allowing for changes in management policy as ongoing monitoring shows the trajectory of coastal change.

Coastal communities are engaged in shaping coastal management policy, but to be accepted and supported, management approaches need to take account of local knowledge and communities’ relationships to place, as well as being ethical and just. Inequality in exposure to and potential impact of coastal hazard follows wider patterns of disadvantage in England. Minority ethnic households, those in ‘post-industrial’ northern towns and cities and low-income households are disproportionally affected by all sources of flooding, and have less capacity to manage risk at an individual or community level.

Key points

  • Sea level rise will continue over the coming centuries, increasing the frequency and magnitude of coastal hazards.  
  • Growing coastal populations and the value of assets on the coast are increasing exposure to coastal flood and erosion risk, with a third of people exposed to frequent coastal flooding in the top 20% most vulnerable neighbourhoods. 
  • Coastal management in England is guided by the new Flooding and Coastal Erosion Risk Management strategy, but it is not clear if the strategy can address the potential scale of future risks. 
  • Challenges remain around the planning, funding, and delivery of coastal management. Some options may also be challenging to deliver without gaining the acceptance of local communities.

Acknowledgements

POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:

Ciara Dwyer, Loughborough University*

Professor Daniela Schmidt, University of Bristol*

Dr Charlie Thompson, University of Southampton*

Dr Tim Fox, Institution of Mechanical Engineers*

Dr Merryn Thomas, Swansea University*

Dr Erin Roberts, Cardiff University

Professor Jonathan Bamber, University of Bristol*

Professor Daniel Parsons, University of Hull*

Dr Giles Davidson, University of Hull*

Dr Steven Forrest, University of Hull*

Dr Anne Baar, University of Hull*

Professor Briony McDonagh, University of Hull*

Dr Johanna Forster, University of East Anglia*

Dr Ivan Haigh, University of Southampton*

Professor Robert Nicholls, University of East Anglia

Dr Jennifer Brown, National Oceanography Centre*

Dr Ben Gouldby, HR Wallingford

Leigh Lock, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds

Nick Hardiman, Environment Agency

Paul Sayers, Sayers and Partners

Rob Goodliffe, Coastal Partnership East

Sharon Bleese, Coastal Partnership East*

Professor Iris Moeller, Trinity College Dublin*

Professor Kate Spencer, Queen Mary University of London*

* denotes people and organisations who acted as external reviewers of the briefing

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Channel website: https://www.parliament.uk/post

Original article link: https://post.parliament.uk/research-briefings/post-pn-0647/

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