Natural coastal protection against risk of flood and erosion

Image for CS-14-846 Natural coastal protection
Salcott Creek Old Hall marshes, Essex (credit: Matthew Barker/Wikimedia CC BY-SA 2.0)

World-leading research from the Cambridge Coastal Research Unit on coastal wetlands has substantially changed awareness, attitudes, policy and practice within governments and organisations concerned with flood and coastal erosion risk management and hazard mitigation.

Providing evidence for the cost-savings and benefits achieved through using coastal wetlands as ‘natural buffers’ to dissipate incident wave energy has led to key national and international policy shifts.

For instance, from 2017, the team has worked closely with the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Marine Pioneer and local stakeholders to develop metrics to quantify the benefits, or ‘environmental gain’, from a natural approach to flood management. This allowed decision-makers to see where investment in marsh restoration might have greatest effect in terms of flood and erosion risk mitigation. The methodology was then extended more widely as part of a regional plan.

The research has influenced decisions to ensure the protection of natural habitats and coastal communities in the UK, Europe and the USA, and underpinned fundamental change in the way that the community of coastal stakeholders now thinks about coastal wetlands and their benefits to society.

“This was a model of how good science can be translated into impactful environmental advice. We are now developing a series of ‘lessons’ from the Marine Pioneers on how to fundamentally embed consideration of nature’s importance in decision making at all levels.”

– Head of Evidence, Marine Management Organisation