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Can the UK’s coasts, which are in decline, be saved from erosion

Can the UK’s coasts, which are in decline, be saved from erosion

A house on a clifftop viewed from below

As land is washed into the sea, erosion is constantly changing coastlines. Sometimes buildings and infrastructure are also swept into it. The UK has one of the most rapidly eroding coastlines anywhere in Europe. Of the mainland’s 17,000km of coastline, around 2,900km (17%)Erosion can affect the appearance of the building.

Defending this entire coastline would be prohibitively expensive and destroy many of the things we love about the coast – few want to see boulders dumped on their local beach or large stretches of concrete wall. So instead of asking how UK coastlines can be “saved” from erosion, we need to instead consider how they can be managed in a sustainable, holistic way that protects people who live along the coast and allows them to adapt to change.

Numerous sewage treatment plants, landfills and railway lines are already in place. Flooding is a problemSeawater can overflow defenses during storms, contaminating groundwater supplies and agricultural land. These infrastructures will be more vulnerable as rising seas cause flooding and erosion.

A house on a clifftop viewed from below

Happisburgh, Norfolk: Eroding cliffs are moving towards a doomed home
Philip Bird / shutterstock

Despite coastal management plans and adaptation measures such as managed retreat or raising flood defenses, the risks remain and erosion continues to be a problem. exacerbate hazardsStorm surges and landslides. It is crucial to minimize damage and improve safety for coastal communities.

Defences v erosion

The UK’s shape is constantly changing due to erosion and sediment deposition. The east coast has lost several hundred kilometres over the past 50 years. It is essential that maps are regularly updated with satellite images and GPS measurements because of the constantly changing coastline. These observations are historical snapshots in time. It is difficult to predict the future coastline in 50 years, as climate change and rising seas will accelerate erosion rates.

Erosion is a major issue, particularly in smaller towns and villages along the UK’s southern and eastern coasts. Barton-on-Sea in Hampshire is one example of a small coastal town where residents are worried about their safety. Landslides and high rates of erosion. Several meters of the frontage have fallen into the sea, and the entire coastline is now considered highly susceptible to erosion.

Eroding cliff viewed from below

Barton-on-Sea’s eroding cliffs viewed from below.
Komali Kantamaneni, Author provided

Long stretches of Rock armourLarge boulders that absorb the waves’ force. GroynesProtection was provided by structures that are built from the shore into water and designed to trap sediment. These protections can concentrate wave energy and starve sites nearby, leading to faster erosion further down the coast. These defenses will not be effective against stronger storms or higher seas in future.

Eroding cliffs beside the sea

…and the same erosion viewed from the clifftop.
Komali Kantamaneni, Author provided

These erosion management strategies are often divisive because sediment removed from one coast often supplies sand to another. Beaches can provide income from tourism as well as protection from flooding and erosion. Barton-on-Sea’s case is not unique. In some cases, halting erosion in one place can cause it to accelerate in another. Poorly planned coastal defenses can have devastating consequences.

Hotspots and vulnerability along the coast

Komali Kantamaneni (one of us) created an Method to compare coastal vulnerability across different areasWe identified 11 hotspots along the UK coast where erosion was most likely to occur and where it would be most economic damaging. These hotspots were towns like Skegness, Great Yarmouth, and Port Talbot in England. Aberystwyth and Aberystwyth are in Wales. These areas are combined a rich source of biodiversity. £22 billionvalue of homes, offices and public buildings, infrastructure, and other assets. These towns are at risk of flooding, erosion, and storm surges that could affect more than 100,000 people and 50,000 homes.

As more people settle on the coasts, erosion is becoming a greater risk to society. Aberystwyth and other towns are especially vulnerable. Strong waves can make it vulnerableMany times, they can be several metres high. New developments and redevelopments in town expose more people to erosion, leading to greater economic losses as a result of flooding and storm damages.

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A lone green plant in a barren land stretch with dried plants.

Map of UK with dots representing vulnerable hotspots.

Economic vulnerability to erosion of selected ‘hotspots’.
Komali Kantamaneni, Author provided

Sites such as Hornsea, Camber Sands, Sunderland, Bognor & WithernseaThey have lost hundreds of meters of coastline and will see much of their coastline disappear into the sea within the next 20-years.

There is still much uncertainty about how vulnerable different parts of the coastline are to erosion. Every site will respond differently to climate and land-use changes due to its geology, coastal defenses, wave properties, and weather.

Regions at risk of erosion must take steps to reduce the effects of hazards such as flooding or landslides. It is important to consider the needs of the locals, the environment, and those living further down the coast when making interventions. We will be facing ever-increasing environmental damage and societal costs if this is not done.

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