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National Trust says urgent coastal action is required

Words: Laura Edgar

The government and agencies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland need to act now to ensure the coast is ready for the “enormous challenges” presented by severe storms and rising sea levels, according to research by the National Trust.

The National Trust said Shifting Shores (pdf) found that 12,500 new homes and businesses at risk of “significant erosion or flooding” have been built in coastal areas over the last decade, despite national advice against doing so.

Since 2010, local planning authorities in England have been able to create Coastal Change Management Areas (CCMAs) through their local plans to ensure that new development doesn’t take place in areas at risk of erosion and flooding. The report states that only 29 of England’s 94 coastal planning authorities are currently using CCMAs.

Additionally, it says: “While a further 35 councils do have some form of policy on coastal change, it seems that the remaining – almost a third – do not.”

On the Welsh coast, the report explains that although it has a coastal path along its entirety, “there is still no easy-to-apply mechanism in legislation to ensure that the trail can be rolled back in a timely way as sections vulnerable to erosion fail”.

Therefore, in the report the National Trust is calling for a “bold and imaginative approach” to coastline management that involves an understanding of how nature works, moving towards adaptation and away from maintaining engineering defences.

Phil Dyke, the National Trust’s coastal marine adviser, said: “We know 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.”

The National Trust “favours” an approach that sees large areas of the coast views as a whole to create “more joined-up and better stretches of coastline”, working alongside local land owners, communities and groups to deliver this.

Peter Nixon, director of land, landscape and nature at the National Trust, said: “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 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.”

The National Trust expects to put this approach into practice and have plans in place for 80 of its coastal areas by 2020.

A full list of the wider challenges and a breakdown of what needs to be done can be found here (pdf).