UK Has Fastest Eroding Coastline in Northern Europe: What’s the Solution?

Throney Island shoreline Hampshire
Throney Island shoreline Hampshire

In our previous article entitled How Coastal Erosion in the UK Can Massively Stress Struggling Communities we explored the problems and challenges of coastal erosion which affects communities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Following a report by the Committee on Climate Change in 2018 the current government has taken significant steps to support better long term planning and management of the effects of coastal erosion on society and those living on the coastal edge. The CCC’s recommendations included creating a strategy for financing the upgrade and development of key infrastructure such as roads, train lines, prime agricultural land and landfill sites and offering financial assistance to those whose homes and businesses have been damaged by coastal erosion. (1)

Josh Halliday of the Guardian has criticised the Coastal Erosion Assistance Grant (CAEG). Halliday asserts that the monetary assistance available is not enough in order to properly help an individual household’s problem, if they have had to demolish their house and move, or rebuild on another piece of land. (2)

Defra responded by stating that they are investing “£1.2 billion in coastal defenses to protect 170,000 properties by 2021. (3)

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) promises a £200 million fund to “support innovative action in 25 local areas to improve resilience to flooding and coastal erosion and rising sea levels.” between 2021 and 2027. (3)

The Minister for the Environment Rebecca Pow described how the government is currently “on track to protect 300,000 homes by 2021 with a £2.6 billion investment in nationwide defences, flood management and resilient buildings.” (4)

Over 1000 flood and coastal defence schemes were planned in the last few years to better protect those who live in areas at risk of coastal erosion and flooding in the UK.

Working in partnership with British water companies Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s team are collaborating with major utilities providers to fund construction schemes that reduce flood risk. (4)

In recent years demountable barriers have been custom designed to support particular locations at the water’s edge. These replace traditional temporary defenses that have proved less effective. One example of this method can be seen in the Exeter project in Devon on the south coast of England.

Struggling seaside towns with coastal erosion and social, housing and unemployment problems will benefit from the £3.6 billion Towns Fund set out by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in the last budget.

The government admits that preventing the impact of coastal erosion will need a fresh approach: “By 2026 we will reform local flood and coastal erosion risk planning so that every area of England will have a more strategic and comprehensive plan that drives long-term local action and investment.” (4) Shoreline Management Plans and better coastal monitoring now help local authorities to work with the Environment Agency to minimise problems that result from erosion. (3)

More than 2000 new defenses will be built in the UK between 2021 and 2027 according to the current plan at Defra.

25 places affected by the natural weakening of the coast that are on the priority list for ‘flooding and coastal change’ will benefit. Defra announced last August that an extra £1 million has been allocated by the government to refresh 20 shoreline management plans (SMPs) which are a “key part of the wider strategy to protect Britain’s coastline”. (3)

Investment in the country’s infrastructure and sea defenses will ultimately reward current and future generations with structurally sound homes, stable businesses and a better natural environment for everyone. Politicians, council leaders and local residents all need to take a long term approach to adapting and building resilience in their neighbourhoods to avoid the negative life-changing effects of coastal flooding for current and future generations.

The construction schemes that strengthen the edges of this country’s land include shoreline, countryside, cliffs, saltmarshes, shingle beaches and sand dunes and other natural habitats. These centrally funded projects create jobs and it is a good idea that preference is given to local contractors where possible, to help boost local economies.

The millions spent by governments today, to adapt to the changing needs of our coastlines affected by coastal erosion will benefit communities by attracting tourism and commercial business investment. This adaptability and fortitude will lead to more confidence, jobs and prosperity. For many of the charming, historic, special but in places rather worn and under-resourced seaside towns around the British Isles, this is significant help and support to build healthier communities which is urgently needed.

Today Alok Sharma President Delegate of the COP United Nations Climate Change conference to be held in Glasgow, made a statement calling for more to be done to reduce harmful emissions in order to reach the 30 year climate target of less than 1.5 degrees of warming. Sharma outlined how millions of people would be affected by extreme weather and higher temperatures unless we make changes this year.

Sharma’s message includes acting now to minimise the impact of coastal erosion in the UK and around the world. With world leaders focused on committing to improve the environment and the US embracing the Paris agreement once again, there is a glimmer of light on the horizon for successfully managing coastal erosion in the future.   (5)


(1) ‘Managing the coast in a changing climate’ Committee on Climate Change, October 2018 ‘Managing the coast in a changing climate’ Committee on Climate Change

(2) ‘Treat coastal erosion as a natural catastrophe, UK ministers urged’ Josh Halliday, North of England correspondent, 19 January 2020 ‘Treat coastal erosion as a natural catastrophe, UK ministers urged’ Josh Halliday, The Guardian

(3) ‘How we are working to tackle coastal erosion’ Defra Press Office, 11 August 2020 ‘How we are working to tackle coastal erosion’ Defra

(4) ‘Flood and Coastal erosion risk management policy statement’ HM Government policy July 2020 ‘Flood and Coastal erosion risk management policy statement’ HM Government policy

(5) ‘Alok Sharma will explain how critical #COP26 is for building a cleaner, greener future’ UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021: COP 26, 14 May 2021 UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021