Climate Change – Jurassic Toast

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In Britain no one lives more than 75 miles from the sea. From the emotional attachment to the beaches we played on as children; to the historic notion of ruling the waves, the sea and the coast is an important part of our national identity. But with the levels of erosion increasing and sea levels rising, climate change is going to have a ravaging effect on our shores. Many of our favourite places will start to look very different in the coming years.

 The coast is a canary for climate change and whilst it is a dynamic environment the rate of change is rapidly speeding up. The National Trust cares for nearly 700 miles of coastline, almost one tenth of the coast in England, Scotland and Wales. With Sea levels predicated to rise by one Metre in the next 100 years, The Trust Coastal Risk Assessment delivered striking results; 60% of National Trust owned coastline could be affected by erosion highlighting the need for more adaptive approaches to prepare for coastal change.

 Consequently the National Trust has adopted a policy of adaptation, planning changes to major infrastructure where needed, acquiring coastal land and looking at the daily management of coastal sites.                                                        

The traditional response to coastal change has been resisting it through hard defences, often in the form of rock or concrete. Through evidence and experience we now have a better understanding of the forces of nature and the consequences of working against them. Many of our sites on undeveloped natural coast are now suffering the knock-on impacts of hard engineering further along the coast.

 View of Beach Huts at rear of Middle Beach, Studland Bay, Dorset

On the StudlandPeninsula in Dorset, the six kilometres of sandy beach attract over a million visitors a year. The southern section of the beach is being eroded by two to three metres a year with the sand being deposited on the northern part, so the peninsula is not suffering a net loss overall. However, the cafes, toilets, a shop, car parking and beach huts on the eroding southern section are under threat. The Trust has moved the beach huts twice and is now seeking a way to relocate many of the other buildings and infrastructure.

People on the beach at East Head, West Wittering, West Sussex.

East Head on the Sussex coast is being starved of its essential supply of sand and shingle from the shoreline to the east due to the hard defences protecting housing on the Manhood peninsula. The defences are increasing and concentrating change to an internationally important sand dune formation and giving rise to problems for other coastal users. There is no guarantee that hard defences work in the long term: they are often only a temporary solution. As sea levels rise and severe storms increase, it will become ever more difficult and expensive to build and maintain strong defences. They can also disfigure the coast and cause environmental harm by moving the problem to another location. We believe therefore that hard defences should only be used as a last resort.

 Coastguard cottages at Birling Gap, part of the Seven Sisters cliffs range, East Sussex

Whether it is accepting that some buildings will eventually be claimed by the sea or working with a local community to rebuild natural defences like sand dunes, the Trust is thinking long term, working in harmony with nature and collaborating with communities and organisations to ensure the best out come for all.

Read more about the National Trust’s response to the impacts of climate change on the coastline here: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/what-we-do/big-issues/energy-and-climate-change/

By Morwenna Slade

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