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The IMCORE project ran from 2008 to 2011 and was funded under the EU Interreg IVB programme.

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Practical tips for following the IMCORE approach to planning to adapt to coastal climate change 

The Sefton Coast, which extends over 34 kilometres (21 miles), is comprised of soft and granular deposits of sand, silt, clay and peat. There are no outcrops of rock on the shoreline. Hence, the forces of nature readily mould it, so the shoreline is constantly changing in response to the fluctuating influence of wind and water and as a result of human activity.

Its overall shape derives from two major river estuaries, the Mersey and the Ribble. The River Alt and the Crossens Channel, each have important local zones of secondary influence.

Human use of the dune system over several centuries has created a dune landscape of great variety. To the north of the Sefton Coast is an extensive area of Saltmarsh extending into the Ribble estuary; other smaller areas of Saltmarsh also occur at the River Alt and Smiths Slack (located on the foreshore between Birkdale and Ainsdale). Several towns have developed along the coast; at Crosby, to the south, and Southport, to the north, artificial defences have been put in place. In-between these areas towns such as Formby rely upon the sand dunes to provide protection from the sea. Wind and waves from the Irish Sea focus in upon the soft sand dunes of Formby point which causes the dunes to move landwards (erosion). On average the rate of erosion at Formby point is 4m/yr but after a single significant storm event, which is a high tide and strong westerly winds, the erosion can be up to 15m. Sand which is washed away from Formby point is often transported northwards to Ainsdale and southwards to Crosby which causes these areas to grow seawards.

The sand dunes, beaches and marshes of the Sefton Coast are one of the most important areas for nature conservation in Europe. The entire Coast is designated as either Special Protection Area (SPA) to the north of the pier at Southport or Special Area of Conservation (SAC) to the south of the pier, notable species include Sand Lizards and Natterjack Toads with the estuarine area being very important for birds. The Sefton Coast is also an important visitor destination with popular bathing beaches, open countryside, and the seaside resort of Southport.


Figure 1: Detailed location plan of the Sefton coast


BIRDs eye_view

Figure 2: Past coastline change


Drivers of climate Change

One of the major threats to coastlines is increasing sea levels. UKCIP (UK Climate Impacts Programme) state that absolute sea level has increased by approximately 10 cm around the UK coast during the twentieth century, although natural land movements mean there are large regional differences in the actual sea-level rise detected at different coastal locations. The sea-level will continue to rise around the UK coast and by 2100 it could have risen by as much as 80 cm, depending on region and emissions scenario.

Sea level is not however the only major threat to the Sefton Coast. Other climatic changes such as increasing storminess, changes in rainfall patterns, increasing temperatures and increasing humidity could also have potentially significant implications. The knock on effects of these changes could see the Sefton Coast alter dramatically for both better and worse.


Figure 3: Past coastline evolution and predicted predicated change


Impacts of climate change in the case study area

Key Impacts

  • Loss of natural areas
  • Threats to property and infrastructure through flooding and erosion
  • Impact on tourism both positive and negative

People have been adapting to coastal change on the Sefton Coast for a long time and even without climate change would have to continue to do so; with climate change the rate and scale of change may increase along with the nature of some of the changes such as temperature. The main economic activities reliant on the coast relate to tourism and the port with the port activities appearing to be reasonably resilient to change.

Tourism relies on the coast as an attractive destination and also relies on infrastructure at the coast. Much of the infrastructure is at increased risk because of climate change primarily due to increased sea levels that will increase the risk of tidal flooding and increase coastal erosion. Other aspects of climate change will have an impact on the coastal environment such as changes in temperature and rainfall patterns that could alter the natural features that visitors' value. Conversely these same changes in temperature patterns may make the coast more attractive to visitors especially if current destinations such as the Mediterranean become so hot as to be uncomfortable.

The potential changes to natural features includes both the extent and nature of the features. It is anticipated that increasing sea-levels will increase erosion and as such the extent of the features will reduce. The rear boundaries of these natural areas are constrained by housing and other built areas such as railways, roads and commercial developments which limits the ability to maintain the area by allowing the feature to migrate landwards. The nature of the features will be affected by changes to precipitation and temperature patterns, an example would be the impact on groundwater levels which are predicted to reduce by up to a metre over the next hundred years. In Sefton this would have a significant impact on the dune slacks (Sefton contains about 40% of dune slacks in England) which support a wide variety of flora and fauna.

The coast is widely used by residents of Sefton but many residents are also aware of the potential threat that the coast poses in terms of flooding and erosion. Amongst residents there is a wide range of knowledge and opinions regarding climate change and coastal change; some are very concerned others less so, some believe that climate change is happening others believe it is a fiction. With regards to flood and erosion risk to residential properties there are no properties at risk from erosion within fifty years but in 50-100 years time there would be over a hundred properties at risk. Flood defences are already in place where this risk currently exists but these will need upgrading if we are to maintain the current levels of defence.

Approaches for planning defence against erosion and flooding are well established and take into account climate change but there is limited funding available for any intervention. At the local level there appears to be a general resistance to change with many people viewing any change as a bad thing. The coastal area is highly designated which both provides protection but also a constraint with this legislation not necessarily allowing the flexibility sometimes required to adapt.

ICZM and institutional context

The Sefton coast has a long established partnership, The Sefton Coast Partnership, which brings together the key actors on the coast to discuss issues, identify opportunities for working together and develop joint strategies. The Partnership has been aware of climate change but had not up to this point developed a specific response to climate change. The Council is a major actor on the coast and was also at this time developing a Council wide strategy for adapting to climate change. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the government department responsible for the coast was also developing a strategy on adaptation to coastal change at this time.

When developing the adaptation study for the coast the approach was welcomed by the Sefton Coast Partnership and there were no particular issues from these partners. When working with the wider group for the council wide adaptation strategy there was a clear issue over the timescales being considered with little acceptance for the need to consider change over the long term (100 years). This difference might be related to the coastal practitioners being aware of and practicing the principles developed for integrated coastal zone management which includes the need for a long term perspective.

This learning portal brings together the results and lessons learned from the IMCORE project. This project was funded under the Interreg IVB programme from 2008 to 2011.

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