The winter storms of the first weeks of 2018 brought into sharp focus how dynamic our coastline is. However, it also raised the spectre of how vulnerable many communities in the South West of England are to coastal flooding and erosion.
The formation of impressive dune cliffs at Crantock, the erosion of beaches at Bude and Perranporth, cliff falls on The Lizard and other locations, the destruction of coastal infrastructure at Portreath, and coastal flooding at many locations was all too familiar, especially for those with good memories of the havoc wreaked during the 2013/14 winter.
Coastal erosion and flooding, and consequent damage to infrastructure, disruption of services and modifications to the coastal landscape will become more common over the next century due to climate change. Rising sea levels will increase the probability of extreme coastal water levels and this could be exacerbated by potentially larger and more frequent extreme waves due to changes to the wave climate.
Much of our coastline in the South West of England is already eroding, as testified by the dominance of coastal cliff scenery. At the same time, our coastal zone is far from natural with numerous clifftop properties and extensive development at the back of beaches, on top of dunes and in low-lying coastal valleys. It is obvious, therefore, that coastal communities are facing significant future challenges.
Much existing coastal development took place when our understanding of coastal dynamics was limited and when climate change, and its consequences for the coast, was not yet a reality. That development is already under threat, and the scale of the threat will only increase in the future.
Dealing with this issue requires a balanced consideration of the various adaptation strategies, ranging from ‘hard’ coastal protection such as sea walls, to more sustainable solutions such as supplementing the amount of sand on our beaches and even managed realignment.