The National Trust is calling for action from government and agencies in Northern Ireland, England and Wales to ensure all coastal areas are ready for the enormous challenges presented by severe storms and rising sea levels.
In 2013 and 2014, the coastline was battered by a series of storms and high tides which resulted in levels of erosion and flooding experts would usually expect to see every five to 15 years. And, in the coming years extreme weather events are likely to become more frequent, affecting people and natural habitats, putting coastal wildlife at risk.
In its new report – “Shifting Shores – playing our part at the coast” the trust calls for a bold and imaginative approach to coastline management, involving an understanding of how nature works, moving towards adaptation and away from maintaining engineered defences, where appropriate, while being sensitive to community needs. This includes ending the ineffective cycle of continually rebuilding hard sea defences and instead relocating buildings, infrastructure and habitats to safe areas further inland, at some risk locations.
The trust, which cares for more than 100 miles of coastline in Northern Ireland, will be putting this approach into practice with its commitment to have plans in place for coastal areas it cares for by 2020.
Phil Davidson, wildlife and countryside adviser for the National Trust in Northern Ireland says: “In Northern Ireland, we have almost 500 miles of coast and there is an immediate need for action.
“We are likely to be facing even greater increases in storm surges and sea level rise in the future. However, there is currently no co-ordinated approach within government to inform decision making on how best to sustainably manage the vulnerable areas of coastline.
“In Northern Ireland, we have almost 500 miles of coast and there is an immediate need for action. We are likely to be facing even greater increases in storm surges and sea level rise in the future. However, there is currently no co-ordinated approach within government to inform decision making on how best to sustainably manage the vulnerable areas of coastline.”Phil Davidson Wildlife and countryside adviser, National Trust in Northern Ireland
“The National Trust in Northern Ireland is planning a series of workshops with local councils and communities in early 2016 to help in the development of Shoreline Plans and to encourage long term thinking.”
“We are also calling for the NI Executive and local councils to establish Shoreline Plans to ensure sustainable adaptive management of the coast and to establish a co-ordinated coastal monitoring program so that we can properly understand coastal change.”
At coastal areas at risk the trust also wants to ensure there is space and land to help with a managed realignment; rolling back and relocating buildings, infrastructure, shoreline and habitats. For example, at Mount Stewart in Co Down plans are in place to adapt to rising sea levels of Strangford Lough.
Jon Kerr, manager at Mount Stewart said: “As the world changes around it, we want Mount Stewart to remain the special place it has always been. We have about 80 years to future proof this famous garden. As lough levels rise salt water will creep up the garden – reaching the Italian Garden and Lily Wood by the turn of the century. So it’s important that we make plans and take action today.”
The trust also favours a landscape-scale style approach, where large areas of the coast are viewed as a whole to create more joined up and better managed stretches of coastline. It is also committed to working in partnership with a wide range of local landowners, communities and local government to deliver a joined up approach to managing coastal change, which works for all the parties involved.