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EA Chair says collaboration needed to protect local economies and nature on the coast

More work is needed to ensure the protection, recovery and restoration of our coastal and marine environment, and to enable coastal populations to thrive.

A concerted effort is needed to better protect our coastal communities and economies whilst enhancing our marine environment, said Environment Agency Chair Alan Lovell today (26 January) as the EA launches its latest ‘State of the Environment: Coast and Marine’ report.

Speaking at the Coastal Future’s Conference, Alan Lovell said that with over a third of the UK population living within 5km of the coastline, more work is needed to ensure the protection, recovery and restoration of our coastal and marine environment, and to enable coastal populations to thrive.

Alan Lovell said:

England’s national story is a story about our relationship with the coast and a century of air travel has not totally eroded our reliance on ports and estuaries to deliver the things we need.

Yet, coastal towns are now among the most deprived in the country.

We need to work together with coastal communities to identify the best possible way to keep them safe and prosperous.

We need a concerted effort to better protect coastal communities and economies while enhancing the marine environment.

The report, produced by the EA’s Chief Scientist’s Group, draws attention to the many consequences of climate change, with 85% of England’s salt marshes – which store the carbon equivalent of nearly 40 million people’s annual domestic emissions - estimated to have been lost since the 1800s, as well as up to 50% of seagrass meadows and 95% of our native oyster population. Meanwhile over 100,000 people are estimated to be at risk from significant coastal flooding – a figure likely to increase by 300% this century, even if global warming is kept to 2 degrees.

However, the report also shows important progress towards tackling these threats to our marine and coastal environment, including salt marsh restoration, helping fish populations recover and improving water quality in designated bathing waters.

Reflecting on this, Alan Lovell also said:

Continued action must be taken to curb the threat of climate change - through evidence based, collaborative approaches spanning from large-scale projects, local on-the-ground restoration and working alongside coastal communities to identify the best possible approach to coastal management.

The EA continues to invest in a healthy coastline through many outlets including our National Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management strategy and our Restoring Meadow Marsh and Reef initiative.

Although some progress has been made, there is a great deal more to be done and I hope that what we learn from innovative projects such as these will encourage others to join us and invest in ways that champion coastal resilience and help in the fight against climate change.

The EA’s Restoring Meadow Marsh and Reef initiative is just one of the programmes taking action to tackle climate change, and aims to restore at least 15% of priority estuarine and coastal habitats by 2043.

Additionally, the EA’s £120m Habitat Compensation and Restoration Programme, funded through Flood and Coastal Risk Management, has created over 1200ha of salt marsh and mudflat since 2005 to keep pace with protected habitat lost as a result of managing risk to people and property. The latest mapped extent of salt marsh in England shows an overall increase of 7% compared with 2006 to 2009 figures, nearly half of which is as a result of habitat creation in this programme. The restoration initiative aims to build on this experience for salt marsh and help to build an accelerated programme for this and other inshore habitats.

Other investments by the EA to protect and restore the coastal and marine environment include:

  • £1.8m in Championing Coastal Coordination over the next 3 years with 20 projects receiving funding in 2022/23. Innovative projects will mix citizen science, local restoration and large-scale work to generate resilient coastlines, and Alan Lovell has today called for further investment to scale up solutions.

  • More than £5 billion over 5 years in River Basin Management Plans which will enhance and limit further deterioration of England’s waters giving us increased resilience to the impacts of climate change. This includes 23 specific estuarine and coastal measures, ranging from habitat restoration plans and citizen science campaigns, to tackling marine litter and pollution.

  • Support to the Natural Capital Ecosystem Assessment Programme through an ambitious Land Sea Interface project. The project will provide new evidence on the value of our marine environment and underpin our restoration ambition with knowledge of all the benefits our marine ecosystem provides, encouraging policy and management decision-making that achieves a resilient coast.

The Environment Agency will continue to invest in innovation, partner collaboration and local on-the-ground restoration to ensure a coordinated approach to manage our coastal and marine environment, combat the effects of climate change, and mitigate the damage that has already been done.

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