As Scotland prepares for the first storm of the season, as Storm Abigail is to make landfall this evening with winds of up to 90mph the harrowing winter of 2013/14 is still fresh in the mind for many. Britain was battered by storm after storm causing widespread flooding, power outages and homes to fall into the sea. It is the later which the National Trust are now sending an urgent warning out to politicians as councils continue to build on ever-changing and vulnerable coastline.
In a new report: Living with change – our shifting shores; the Trust warns that there is a lack of foresight towards known risks of flooding and coastal erosion. As building in at risk areas continues, the Trust want councils to follow planning guidelines already in place to prevent the number of at risk properties from rising any further than the 10% it rose between 2005 and 2014.
Moreover the National Trust are not simply calling for less coastal development but a shift in attitudes as to how we protect our coastline. Currently defence is used as the main strategy however with the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report it appears adaptation may be key to protecting our coastline. This does not mean surrendering to nature as some might suggest, but instead working with nature as our coastlines will always change.
The problem faced in the 21st Century is that climate change is leading to an increased frequency of severe storms, which have the power to erode coastline in a matter of a few months instead of years. Birling Gap in East Sussex fell victim to the winter of 2013/14 as seven years worth of erosion happened in a few months.
Thus Birling Gap has become an example of an area where “rolling back” adaptation is now occurring. This involves moving infrastructure out of harms way, so in Birling Gaps case the Trust have built a flexible cafe and shop which can be moved in line with coastal erosion.
The National Trust are also keen to emphasise that although our coastline is at risk it would be wholly irresponsible to create large amounts of seawalls as these could stop the coast functioning naturally. Sea walls stop sand and shingle from naturally moving up beaches as waves hit the shore. The sand is instead taken back out to sea and deposited there, leading to a process called beach lowering. Thus as sea walls fail in the future the Trust are calling for them to be removed in order to help the coastline function better.
As instinctive as it may be to batten down the hatches against impending climate change the impacts which go with it, the National Trust are calling us to not go on the offensive against nature. Instead we must learn to adapt and work with nature, a lesson which is potentially true across many aspects of conservation.
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