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Coast at Greenwich: Q and A

Updated Tuesday 20th November 2007

As part of a day of Coast-themed events at the Maritime Museum, we held a roundtable discussion on the issues facing those who live and work near the sea.

As part of the 2007 series of Coast, The Open University and Crown Estates came together to organise a range of events around the country, the final event being held at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.


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Mark Horton: Having now made 29 hours of Coast and been to practically every bit of the UK coastline, and quite a lot of the Irish coastline as well, the message that came back to all of us, all of us presenters again and again, was just how vulnerable the coast was to environmental change.

Rebecca Cook: First of all, everyone is aware that there is rise in the sea level. With climate change we are going to get increased storminess, as we've seen this summer already, that we've had increased winds, we've had higher water levels than we usually have for this time of the year.

Coastal flooding is prevalent around the coast so far. Because of the increased flooding, we are going to get increased coastal erosion, with cliffs and beaches slowly disappearing over time, and there will be increased flooding and inundation. We will also get increased landslides on cliff lines that are characterised by clay, such as on the Isle of Wight and on the east coast. We will get beach erosion and, most probably, habitat loss as well.

Mark Horton: Fantastic complex of sandstone caves are at a place called Wemyss that are full of prehistoric and Pictish carvings, actually unique in Scotland, and these things are right on this coastline – this is being heavily eroded away. And the sort of figures involved in stopping the erosion is sort of £50m, you know, to save these caves, and the issue's, you know, is this just cloud cuckoo land or not, and the local authority's decided, much to great local concern, that no coastal defences can or will stop it. And this is really the issue, isn't it, as to what should be preserved?

And one of the reasons why Wemyss, for example, the coastal erosion is particularly fast is that there's a community, with lots of houses just further up the coast, and they’ve put very hard defences around that community, and so the erosions will passed down the coastline.

Alex Midlen: So as you’ve said already one of the main affects of climate change is an increase in storminess. So actually it heats up, there's more energy there, and that’s how it leads to more storms. So more storms and more severe storms. Currently our river systems have difficulty coping with the high flows, even now, so in the future there's likely to be an increase in flooding. And one way to reduce this flooding is to go back to traditional methods of having meadows along the floodplain, these meadows could be flooded in the winter, and water can sit there rather than coming in and flooding the towns and cities.

Rebecca Cook: Sea levels have risen by about ten centimetres so far since the 1900s, that doesn’t seem a lot but it is in terms of lowland flooding in coastal areas. Some areas, such as Liverpool, have actually increased by more than twice that, almost twenty-five centimetre rises. We also see an increase in mean wave height in the Channel; this can be as much as fifty centimetres, which is quite a lot for lowland areas. Warmer coastal waters, as well, will affect benthos and sea creatures, and, as a result, we’ll get increased coastal change, and maybe more Mediterranean species.

Alex Midlen: CoastNet is a charity. We’re based in the UK but we work all over the world, but mostly in the UK and Europe. And Mark mentioned that holistic word, trying to take a broader view of things, and that’s really what we try and do, and so you’ve heard a lot today about the environmental side of the question, and in CoastNet we recognise that that sort of information, that sort of research is critically important but we also need to think about people as well and about the economy, and try to fit all the bits together so that we come out with an answer to some of these difficult problems that you’ve heard a little bit about today, which has more relevance to people’s everyday lives, and it’s only then that you get solutions that people are prepared to accept. And we did hear a nice example of Mylor Harbour in Cornwall, where the community have been involved in the decision and have, themselves, come to terms with the issue and the better approach to it, even though it was not necessarily a good decision for them.

Mark Horton: I mean there were these extraordinary calculations that are made, you know, you work out the number of houses that are likely to be protected by coastal erosion, how much it’s going to cost, and, you know, somebody has to make a decision, £25,000 per house, £100,000 per house; £1,000,000 per house, where do you draw the line? And ultimately the government and councils have to pay that money out, and, you know, they make a judgement based upon how much it’s going to cost. And that is where the decisions are made so how much informed debate there is and heated arguments, at the end of the day, it also comes down to money.


For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

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