Introduction to Wales’ Marine Area Statement
What are the opportunities to deliver nature-based solutions and adaptation at the coast, supporting Wales to have a coastline that is sustainable and resilient to climate change?
Image by John Briggs
These Area Statements summarise discussions from the last couple of years. We are adapting our plans for future events and workshops due to the coronavirus pandemic.
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Wales’ vast coastline is vitally important to the people of Wales. It stretches for 2740km with 60% of the population choosing to live at, or near to, the coast. It is an important space for biodiversity, with 75% of the coastline designated for environmental importance. It also supports recreation and tourism which is a huge boost for well-being and local economies. The coast is a precious resource that requires careful, sustainable management to continue providing these benefits now and into the future.
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Our coastlines should naturally change over time. However, human intervention has manipulated what happens there. Many coastal communities around Wales rely on coastal defences to protect them against tidal flooding and erosion. An estimated £3 billion of damages were avoided during the winter of 2013/14 thanks to our coastal defences.
Climate change will result in rising sea levels and increased storm events. Wales’ coast is not currently environmentally, socially or economically resilient to these pressures. In some places it will no longer be sustainable to maintain the current defences in the long-term. This means that we must plan to adapt as some communities, roads, railways, utilities, farms and other infrastructure and businesses on the coast will find themselves at risk.
Image by John Briggs
Shoreline Management Plans are high-level plans that set out where we should continue to defend the coastline and where it would be more sustainable to adapt over time. They break the coastline down into smaller sections known as ‘policy units’. They explain how the policy units should be managed over the short-term (2005-2025), the medium-term (2025-2055) and the long-term (2055-2105) with one of the following management policies for each period of time:
The figure below demonstrates the preferred management policies across the three time periods. It clearly illustrates the planned shift from continuing to defend to a more adaptive approach in some locations.
Where there are planned changes to ‘managed realignment’ or ‘no active intervention’, sections of coast will lose their current protection. Difficult decisions will need to be made and significant evidence gathering, engagement and resource investment is required to begin preparing for coastal adaptation.
Where defences will be maintained, such as in densely populated locations, we have choices about how this is achieved. We can choose the type of defence we have historically opted for, such as seawalls, groynes and breakwaters (sometimes called ‘hard’ or ‘grey’ infrastructure). Or, we can look at using ‘green infrastructure’, also known as ‘nature-based solutions’.
Nature-based solutions offer coastal defence but, unlike traditional solutions, can provide many other benefits. For instance, we can replenish beaches or protect saltmarshes as a way of defending our coast. This approach can simultaneously create habitats for wildlife, protect carbon stores, be places for us to enjoy and can attract tourism to boost local economies. Saltmarshes, in particular, are important habitats and incredibly efficient carbon stores, making them potentially very useful in our efforts to combat climate change.
There are also ‘hybrid approaches’ which can bridge the gap between green and grey infrastructure. Examples of this include installing structures on the sea-facing side of an existing defence to trap sediment and encourage saltmarsh growth. This saltmarsh then protects the defence structure as well as providing other benefits for the ecosystem.
Image Ally Evans, Ecostructure Project
There are many examples of how to use nature-based and hybrid solutions at the coast but, unfortunately, it is not yet common practice in Wales. There is a lot of research going on to try and work out why that is. The Ecostructure project is researching potential solutions and is also working directly with developers and local communities to consider options and raise awareness.
Our coastline, along with the species, habitats and communities that it supports, is facing significant change. We are at a crucial point in time where we have a real opportunity to examine what is needed to support our coastal areas to adapt and become more resilient. What we do now can bring benefits to both nature and the people living around our coast. This theme explores how we can achieve multiple benefits as we prepare for, and adapt to, these changes.
Together with our partners, we recognise that there are a number of barriers to overcome to achieve sustainable coastlines:
We know that there are nearly 100 locations around Wales which will need detailed adaptation planning. However, many people and communities that may be at risk aren’t aware of the need to adapt or how it might affect them.
In addition, more could be done to explain what nature-based solutions could actually look like, where they can be used effectively and the benefits they might offer.
There are cases in Wales where managed realignment has begun to take place, either planned or in response to natural events – like that of Cwm Ivy in the north Gower. These cases have shown us that there is conflicting legislation around public rights of way, highways, heritage and potentially more which could prevent us from managing realignment of the coast where planned.
The huge changes that are required in order to adapt at the coast can be extremely costly to government, local authorities, Network Rail, highway authorities, landowners and the general public. We know that we need to explore funding options to support coastal adaptation.
There also needs to be more support to help get nature-based solutions funded. We need to be able to value their wider benefits so that they can be incorporated into decision-making about the defences we choose.
Image by Amy Martin
We need to gather more evidence on what types of nature-based solutions are possible around Wales and start using them where appropriate. By using nature-based solutions, we will develop confidence in their application and ensure they are genuinely considered alongside traditional solutions.
Images provided by Conwy Council
We need to make information about nature-based solutions more readily available. This could include knowledge about specific locations, and how to use it. Training may also be required to help apply measures locally and improve uptake.
We need to develop a way of collectively agreeing and prioritising which locations require detailed planning first. We can then work together to deliver those detailed plans, ensuring that we reflect upon progress, successes and challenges to help us move forwards.
Image by John Briggs
Having identified and started to explore these challenges, we collectively agreed a vision for this theme:
‘Wales has a sustainable and resilient coastline through the delivery of coastal adaptation in line with Shoreline Management Plans and nature-based solutions as a part of coastal management wherever possible”.
We all acknowledged that there are many locations around Wales which we must continue to defend in the future. This gives us many opportunities to consider using nature-based solutions for our coastal defences. As a group we agreed that success for nature-based solutions would be:
With 50% of locations around Wales set to move away from traditional defences and look to ‘managed realignment’ of the coast or ‘no active intervention’ by 2055, we recognise that there is substantial work needed to allow this change to happen. As a group we agreed that success for coastal adaptation would be:
We have worked with the Wales Coastal Groups Forum and the four individual Coastal Groups in Wales to explore and develop this theme. Alongside Natural Resources Wales, group members include maritime local authorities, the Welsh Local Government Association, Welsh Government, National Trust, Network Rail and archaeological trusts.
These groups bring together a range of stakeholders who have been involved in the development and implementation of Shoreline Management Plans. They have been critical for agreeing a shared vision for this theme as well as identifying and prioritising actions to get us there.
We will continue to work with these groups and are grateful for their contributions so far. In the future, we would like to broaden our engagement and speak with the general public especially with communities that are likely to be affected. We’d also like to speak with other asset and landowners at the coast such as infrastructure providers (utility companies), caravan park owners, leisure providers, farmers, port authorities and more.
The land-based Area Statements all have stretches of coastline and we will continue working together to address the matters under this theme. We will work particularly closely with areas that include those communities that are most at risk.
We collectively identified the actions below to help us achieve our shared visions of success. These actions will involve members of the Wales Coastal Groups Forum and individual coastal groups, but may also be led by others. A key assumption we have made when identifying these actions is that resources would be available, but we recognise that this may remain challenging.
We have actively engaged with the Wales Coastal Groups Forum to develop the actions under this theme. The group agreed a shared long-term vision for the coastline of Wales. Taken together, the actions we have identified here should help deliver Shoreline Management Plans and prevent unsustainable development at the coast.
Image provided by the National Trust
The actions we have identified seek to enable the adaptive management of the Welsh coastline in response to climate change and coastal processes. We want to encourage nature-based solutions in coastal defences to harness multiple benefits such as well-being, carbon capture and building resilience of our coastal ecosystems.
We have identified the need to make existing evidence more accessible to those that need it. We also need to improve the evidence on costs and benefits to support better take up of nature-based solutions and adaptation at the coast.
A key focus in our actions is to raise public awareness and participation, particularly in those communities that are likely to be most affected by climate change and coastal adaptation in the future.
This theme is only the beginning of the journey as we work with people in Wales to improve the management of our coasts and seas. If you would like to be part of this process, please get in touch. You can also email us direct at: email@example.com