Coastal resilience in the face of sea-level rise: making the most of natural systems

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Faculty of Engineering & the Environment


Sea-level rise is one of the most profound aspects of human-induced climate change and its steady but uncertain rate of rise will transform the world's coasts in the coming decades threatening millions of coastal and flood plain residents. While this is understood in a technical sense, wider society has not grasped the scale of change produced by expected rise in sea level over the next century. In the UK, with its large legacy of coastal defences, this issue is especially challenging. Many defences are uneconomic to maintain and renew, and widespread 'realignment' is planned within the strategic process of Shoreline Management Planning (SMP). Realignments reactivate natural sediment processes which enhances self-adjusting natural protection with both risk-reduction and aesthetic benefits. However, the transformation from a defended to a realigned coast is especially challenging to implement and will be an important focus of this research. There has been surprisingly little consideration of how the transition to a realigned coast can be facilitated and enabled across the full range of physical and social perspectives. Efforts to better understand the full range of adaptation options and their implementation, including realignment, offer potentially significant rewards in terms of tangible enhancement of coastal resilience.

CoastalRes aims to develop and demonstrate prototype methods to assess realistic pathways for strategic coastal erosion and flood resilience in the light of climate change, including sea-level rise. We will accomplish this aim via three objectives.

Objective 1. Co-produce a comprehensive set of representative coastal archetypes that describe the open and estuarine coasts of England and Wales in terms relevant to building coastal resilience, including present and future demography, hazards, sea-level rise, contrasting geomorphology, shoreline position, land use patterns and management legacy. This will include early and fully participatory engagement with stakeholders to consider their knowledge and experiences and define the full range of archetypes.

Objective 2. Identify and evaluate a comprehensive range of strategic high level adaptation options, considering their physical suitability, economic efficiency, social acceptability and pathways of application (potential sequence in time) and impact on UK resilience. This will include a systematic literature-based review combined with two regional stakeholder workshops organised with the Coastal Group Network and the Environment Agency.

Objective 3. Taking three common and representative coastal archetypes, design decision pathways to maintain and enhance resilience based on the menu of adaptation options. This will include consideration of a range of factors including policy choices, cost implications, risk trade-offs and public participation in problem specification and decision making. These adaptation pathways for resilience will be validated with representative real sites.

The use of coastal archetypes for the analysis, rather than case studies, is novel and allows generalisation from individual cases to develop generic and transferable guidance. Crucially, our analysis considers all the open coasts and estuaries in England and Wales, as estuaries contain a large proportion of the assets and activities exposed to marine flooding.

In contrast to previous work, which has tended to rely on consultation and 'outreach' to stakeholders, our research will have a genuinely participatory approach. This will allow us to achieve a consensus understanding with a large and diverse group of relevant Project Partners, including the key organisations the Environment Agency and Maritime District Authorities.

The CoastalRes Project will provide a solid demonstration of a transition to a more balanced, resilient and sustainable portfolio of adaptive options on the UK coast and provide a foundation for further research in this area.

Planned Impact

CoastalRes will develop new innovative prototype methods and understanding concerning the strategic assessment of adaptation options for erosion and flooding given sea-level rise and climate change and enhancing coastal resilience. In particular, it will inform future development of Shoreline Management Planning (SMP) process in England and Wales, which is the current policy process for strategic coastal flooding and erosion management, and hence a key component determining the coastal resilience of our coast. Our approach is strongly participatory in nature and we will engage with key stakeholders as Project Partners from the beginning of the project to formulate our detailed approach and make sure that it addresses the range of relevant stakeholder issues. The letters of support from the wide range of stakeholder organisations shows the need and demand for the proposed project and highlights their commitment to end-user 'buy in' from the outset.

The Pathways to Impact document has been developed in consultation with, and will be delivered through, direct, regular and genuinely participatory engagement with multiple stakeholders in England and Wales. The key stakeholders and Project Partners are the Environment Agency and the Maritime Local Authorities (represented by the Coastal Group Network). The Environment Agency has committed to act as a Project Partner if the project is funded. Our other project partners are from other parts of government (Natural England), providers of critical infrastructure (Network Rail and ABP), key NGOs with large coastal land holdings (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and National Trust) and other national NGOs (Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and National Flood Forum). This forms a strong group able to both inform the project and take our results as they emerge and disseminate them into practice. We are open to add new Project Partners as the project develops and will invite selected additional stakeholders to the final workshop (e.g., EDF Energy).

The main ways in which we will engage with end-users are via our stakeholder workshops, a policy brief summarizing our major outcomes and insights, a webinar with the same goal, and web content on the Channel Coastal Observatory site which is used extensively by coastal stakeholders (building on content such as We will hold four workshops through the project, linked to our three objectives. The first workshop will link to the development of the coastal archetypes with attendance of the Environment Agency and our Project Partners. The second and third workshops will be regionally-focussed and will focus on defining a comprehensive set of adaptation options: one workshop will be hold in the south and one in the north to focus on local experience and consider possible regional differences. The fourth and final workshop will focus on validating the adaptation pathways developed with the coastal archetypes and will include national stakeholders, with regional input as appropriate. It will also consider the potential next steps for the research. All these workshops will be designed to be participatory and engage our stakeholders to the maximum degree possible. This will include discussion on the policy brief and webinar as the results develop. We will also engage with our Project Partners via telephone or the internet, bilaterally as needed. We will also seek advice from the University of Southampton's dedicated Public Policy knowledge transfer team In terms of developing the policy brief and webinar.


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