A clear national strategy is “urgently needed” to help future-proof coastal areas from rising sea levels and extreme weather, according to a report published by the National Trust.
The Trust, one of the UK’s biggest coastal owners, says many of its sites have been “battered” by storms and “hit hard” by high tides this winter.
Birling Gap, part of the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs in East Sussex, experienced seven years of erosion this winter – leaving its café and shop teetering metres from the edge.
Part of the footpath down to the golden sands of Rhossili on Gower, South Wales – recently voted the UK’s best beach – has been washed away by storms.
The charity says it has been forced to “fast-track” decisions over how to adapt coastal areas in the months ahead, rather than years or decades.
Simon Pryor, natural environment director at the National Trust, called for the Government to ensure strategies to future-proof the coastline are implemented. “There is a natural inclination to want to defend the coastline with concrete, but our coastline is dynamic and the forces of nature that have formed it are part of its beauty,” Dr Pryor said.
“Hard defences will always have their place, but the winter storms that hit many coastal places hard have provided a valuable reminder that they have a limited life.
“Where we can we need to give natural processes that have formed our coast the space to work, and create areas where the coastline can realign as the sea levels rise. Natural habitats such as sand dunes and salt marshes can act as buffer zones that absorb the impact of storms and very high tides.”
Dr Pryor said a report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reinforced the urgency of having a “workable plan” for long-term coastline management.
He said there was a “clear need” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid further accelerating climate change and the risk of more dramatic storm damage.
“Communities living on the coast, landowners, Government agencies and local and central Government all need to work together now to find solutions based around an adaptation approach to help future-proof the coastline,” Dr Pryor added.
“Much of the framework to make this happen is in place but Government needs to act now to make sure that it’s implemented and the support is there for coastal communities to begin planning to adapt.”