Seas of Change
The potential area for inter-tidal habitat creation
around the coast of mainland Britain
A Report by the RSPB
Robert Pilcher, Philip Burston, Darren Kindleysides and Ruth Davis
This report and the three interim pieces of work that preceded it could not have been written
without the cooperation and assistance of many individuals. Thanks are extended to all those in
statutory organisations, voluntary bodies, landowners and colleagues in the RSPB who kindly
provided information and invaluable insights into how the coast could be managed.
Special thanks also go to John Sharpe, Charlie Holt, Carrie Temple, Sally Huband and Hanna
Thoma for the research underpinning this report.
1. Sea level rise and inter-tidal habitat creation 7
2. The policy context 10
3. Progress to date 14
4. Potential barriers to achieving inter-tidal habitat creation 15
5. Project methods 16
Map of area studied 17
6. Results 18
Map of areas identified 18
7. National/Regional summaries 22
East Anglia 22
Southeast England 23
Northeast England 24
Northwest England 24
Southwest England 25
8. Conclusions 26
9. Next steps 27
This study is the culmination of three years work by the RSPB. Potential sites for inter-tidal
habitat creation around the entire coast of mainland Britain have been identified based on
relatively simple criteria. The results indicate that the total area where inter-tidal habitat
creation is possible is 33,088 hectares. This represents around one thousandth of the total area of
The creation of new areas of inter-tidal habitat through managed realignment and tidal
exchange is a high priority for the RSPB. This is because the area and condition of inter-tidal
habitats is declining in response to a range of pressures, notably globally rising sea levels and
the consequent 'squeeze' of habitats against fixed flood defences. Many inter-tidal areas are
internationally important for migratory and wintering waterfowl and the RSPB has identified
managed realignment and tidal exchange as key mechanisms for safeguarding coastal wetlands
and the wildlife they support, as well as providing opportunities for other social and economic
The range of financial, social, institutional, legislative and political barriers to achieving intertidal
habitat creation in the UK are such that only around 200 hectares has been created over the
last decade. This is less than the loss experienced in a single year. Key barriers include: lack of
political direction; the numerous organisations with a role in coastal management; a virtually
unworkable regulatory system; and an unwillingness or inability to meet the costs. A radical
change to a much simpler, yet suitably robust and well-funded system that actively encourages
both a 'can do' attitude and the active participation of coastal communities is long overdue.
Whether any of the potential sites will be taken forward will depend upon a range of physical,
environmental, social, cultural and economic considerations. This report is therefore intended
only as a first step towards achieving a strategic approach to inter-tidal habitat creation.
Five key messages:
• There is sufficient area to ensure no net loss of inter-tidal habitats for almost 60 years
• 'Do-nothing' is not a valid option in many locations
• There is insufficient area for inter-tidal biodiversity targets to be met through
• Managed realignment and tidal exchange need to be a significant component of the
future management of coastal defences
• If all the schemes were completed they would result in a saving to the ‘public purse’
of £1.37 million each year through reduced flood defence maintenance costs
In response, the RSPB has developed a five-point action plan to delivering inter-tidal habitat
on the ground:
• Determine which of the sites identified by this study can be taken forward in the
short, medium and long term.
• Governments and stakeholders must agree that coastal change has to be actively
managed. A 'do nothing' approach will not meet governments’ targets for biodiversity
or promote the wise use of wetlands. Moreover, it entails a potential risk to life and
property as a result of unmanaged breaches of existing defences.
• Adopt a strategic approach to inter-tidal habitat creation. Many estuaries and firths do
not have a Shoreline Management Plan (SMP), yet of the potential sites identified in this
report, all but five were in estuaries. Although the second round of SMPs in England
and Wales is due to begin, even if this is completed according to the current timetable, it
is unlikely that new habitat will be delivered on a significant scale before 2015. By this
time, Government will have failed to meet its promised UK Biodiversity Action Plan
targets for mudflats and saltmarsh, which it is currently committed to achieve by 2010.
Any delay in completing the next round of SMPs will only serve to worsen the situation.
• Promote a partnership approach to deliver multiple objectives. Whilst the UK and
devolved Governments must take the lead in providing workable policy and funding
frameworks, it should also encourage co-operation between individuals and
organisations to ensure schemes are delivered on the ground. Greater promotion of the
social, economic and environmental benefits of coastal wetlands and increased
participation in the decision making process are essential.
• Develop a more flexible approach to funding schemes. There is a strong argument in
England and Wales that flood management money should fund inter-tidal habitat
creation. This is supported by the fact that the Environment Agency is the lead
organisation for the mudflat and saltmarsh biodiversity action plans. Such a view is also
perpetuated by the UK Government's belief that biodiversity targets will be met through
existing budgets, such as flood defence. In reality, the rigidity of the funding system in
taking little or no account of the wider benefits of schemes, together with the fact that
there is no dedicated biodiversity budget, prevents many schemes going ahead. Clear
guidance about how and when schemes should be funded and by whom, as well as more
innovative ways of incorporating public benefits into the appraisal system are urgently
required. Charities such as the RSPB can make a contribution to the delivery of
important wetlands, but this cannot be a substitute for political and institutional
commitment to fund the conservation and wise use of wetlands.
The coast is valued as a place to live, work, relax and play. Many stretches are valued for the
wealth of wildlife they support. Britain’s coast provides an internationally important refuelling
and wintering ground for 26 species of wildfowl and 18 species of wading birds. Some of these
are considered special because they are rare, others because Britain at certain times of year plays
host to a significant percentage of the East Atlantic population of several species including 67%
of knot, 55% of bar-tailed godwit and over 50% of dark-bellied brent geese. Consequently, there
is a legal duty to ensure a sufficient area of habitat in favourable condition around the coast of
Britain to maintain these populations.
Despite this, inter-tidal habitats around the coast of mainland Britain are disappearing at an
alarming rate. Increasingly, the most sustainable option to offset the increased flood risk, loss of
amenity and reduction in inter-tidal habitat associated with sea-level rise, is the creation of new
inter-tidal habitat. This study presents the first comprehensive survey identifying potential sites
around mainland Britain where inter-tidal habitat creation may be a viable option. It provides a
useful guide to the scale of habitat creation that may be possible and should primarily be used to
prompt detailed site investigation and local discussion.
The need for ‘Seas of Change’
To meet Government obligations under the Habitats Directive and commitments to the UK
Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), it will be necessary to identify sites for inter-tidal habitat
creation. Despite some movement in Government policy, especially in England and Wales,
there is still no move to create inter-tidal habitat on a major scale. Part of the problem is the lack
of experience in undertaking managed realignment and tidal exchange, which is exacerbated by
gaps in understanding and knowledge of geomorphology and coastal processes. The
identification of potential sites for inter-tidal habitat creation is a vital first step, and Seas of
Change forms part of the RSPB’s contribution towards this.
Aims and objectives
The overall aims of this study were:
• To establish the total area of land where inter-tidal habitat creation is considered
practicable around the coast of mainland Britain
• To indicate the potential reduction in the length of flood defence, and consequent cost
savings in reduced maintenance, if these sites were progressed
• To make this information publicly available to encourage open discussion on the
opportunities, issues and scope for a more strategic approach to inter-tidal habitat
• To help improve the quality of conservation advice on coastal planning
1. Sea level rise and inter-tidal habitat creation
Sea levels are predicted to rise around the whole of the coast of mainland Britain, due to a
combination of global warming and land movements, at a rate of between two and six
millimetres per year. Table 1 illustrates how this will affect parts of the British coast.
Sea-level rise (mm)
East Anglia 280 370
English 280 340
Wales 280 330
East Scotland 280 230
West Scotland 280 170
Climate +/- natural land
Changes in sea-level around the coast of mainland Britain by the 2050s, according to UK
Climate Impacts Programme ‘medium-high’ scenario, which suggests a 2.1°C warming in
global temperature by 2050 (UKCIP, 1998)
Accelerating sea-level rise and increased storminess – the result of global climate change – is
placing mounting pressure on coastal defences and the land that they protect. Extensive areas
of inter-tidal habitats, especially mudflats and saltmarsh, that once provided natural protection
to these coastal areas, are being lost to ‘coastal squeeze’, whereby the inter-tidal land is eroded
away as it is progressively squeezed between hard sea defences and rising sea levels (Figure 1).
Rising sea level
Figure 1: Diagram illustrating coastal squeeze
Each stretch of coastline will face different challenges to compensate for climate change and sea
level rise. The effects will be less severe in Scotland due to upward isostatic adjustment (land
movement) following retreat of the ice sheets between 13,000 and 15,000 years ago. Although
land levels have been rising in Scotland since the weight of the ice was removed, even here, sea
level rise is expected to exceed the rate of upward land movement.
The effects of global warming are most severe in the east of Britain, where rising sea levels are
being compounded by a downward movement in land as a counterpoint to the rising land in the
north. In Essex and Kent, which are amongst the worst affected areas, it was calculated that
over 20% of the saltmarsh resource was lost between 1973 and 1988 (Burd, 1992). These results
have recently been updated by a further study, which establishes that over 1,000 hectares of
saltmarsh (one quarter of the resource) has been lost on the Essex coast between 1973 and 1998.
Similar calculations suggest that sea-level rise will result in the loss of 8,000 to 10,000 hectares of
mudflats in Britain between 1992 and 2012 (Pye and French, 1993).
‘Managed realignment’ is the term used to describe the deliberate breaching of current sea and
tidal defences to allow flooding to a new line of defence, landward of the present structures.
This offers one of the best opportunities to replace inter-tidal habitat lost to erosion. The newly
created saltmarsh or inter-tidal flats can also act as a ‘buffer’ between the sea and the land
during high tides and storm floods, dissipating wave energy and allowing the coast to respond
more naturally to changes in sea-level. The habitats and speed with which they develop will
vary with local circumstances. It must be accepted that the characteristics of each site will
change over time and that the objectives should not therefore be too prescriptive early on.
The economic advantages of managed realignment can be significant. Realignment to rising
ground will usually result in a lower and/or shorter length of flood defence, and therefore
reduced maintenance costs. In addition, there may be longer-term savings where a natural
defence is provided by the newly created area of inter-tidal land. The Environment Agency has
estimated that where there is an 80-metre width of saltmarsh fronting a flood defence,
maintenance costs can be reduced by something like £3000 per kilometre. This is due to the
buffering effects of the inter-tidal habitat in attenuating wave action.
Tidal exchange creates saline and brackish habitats such as saltmarsh, inter-tidal mudflats and
saline lagoons, behind sea walls using pipes or sluice gates to allow tidal flushing. This can help
stabilise salinity patterns and encourage sedimentation. Tidal exchange allows direct control
over water levels and can be the forerunner of managed realignment. To date, a relatively small
number of ad hoc tidal exchange projects have been developed, for example on the Gwent
Levels, Havergate Island, Ryan’s Field (Hayle Estuary), Horsey Island, the Tees Estuary, Abbots
Hall, Lantern Marsh and the Black Devon in Clackmannanshire. There are a number of larger
projects underway in the Netherlands, Germany and the United States.
Multi-functional benefits of inter-tidal habitat creation
Ways in which inter-tidal habitat creation can benefit society and the environment include:
• Working with, rather than against, natural processes
• Reducing the cost of maintaining flood defences in the long term
• Delivering wider flood defence benefits from reduced tidal heights further upstream
• Inter-tidal wetlands can act as a sink for substances such as phosphorus and heavy
metals, so contributing to improvements in water quality
• Providing sites for fish to spawn or to act as fish nurseries
• Acting as a catalyst for wider social, economic and environmental benefits, including
landscape enhancements, opportunities for income generation such as boat moorings,
increased access for the public to coastal wildlife and environmental education
• Contributing to the achievement of Government nature conservation commitments
These benefits are not mutually exclusive - on the contrary many inter-tidal habitat creation sites
will be able to perform them in tandem. This should offer opportunities for organisations to
work in partnership. However, few if any sites will be able to deliver them all, and priorities
will have to be set based upon local circumstances and needs. Clearly, organisations like the
RSPB will be most involved where a site is likely to deliver the highest nature conservation
2. The Policy Context
UK Biodiversity Action Plans (BAPs)
Actions plans have been prepared for nine coastal habitat types, namely: cliffs and slopes; sand
dunes; a distinctive type of coastal grassland known as machair found in the north and west of
Scotland and in western Ireland; vegetated shingle; saltmarshes; coastal and floodplain grazing
marshes; reedbeds; saline lagoons; and mudflats. Collectively, these are important for 105
priority BAP species, including 4 invertebrates, 56 insects, 15 vascular plants and 17 nonvascular
plants. Many other species use coastal habitats on a more occasional basis.
The main targets for coastal saltmarsh and mudflat are summarised below.
Coastal Saltmarsh Habitat Action Plan
• No further net loss through creation of 100 hectares per year
• Create a further 40 hectares of saltmarsh each year for fifteen years to replace the
estimated 600 hectares lost between 1992 and 1998
• Maintain quality in terms of community and species diversity – through developing the
full range of saltmarsh zonation
Mudflats Habitat Action Plan
• Maintain at least the present extent and regional distribution
• Create and restore enough inter-tidal habitat over the next 50 years to offset predicted
losses to rising sea levels
• Predicted losses in the next 15 years should be offset in the next 10 years
Coastal Flood Defence Policy in England and Wales
Government Policy is to reduce the risks to people and the natural environment from flooding.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is in overall charge of flood
management policy and gives grants towards the costs of building new or improved flood
defence measures. Recently, DEFRA grant aid has amounted to around £60 million per year.
This has supported about 140 schemes a year and reflects a growing need to replace or upgrade
defences coming to the end of their useful life, as well as respond to the predicted rise in sea
level and consequences of climate change.
Protecting human life must have highest priority and this is reflected in funding priorities. As
demand for funding always exceeds the funds available, a priority scoring system was
introduced in 1997 to optimise the allocation of grants. This scoring system was reviewed in
2002 and now gives greater weight to social and environmental considerations whilst ensuring
technically sound and economically justified schemes are grant-aided. However, as there is only
a requirement to achieve an overall score, rather than a minimum score in each of the key
assessment areas, it remains unclear whether this will assist in delivering inter-tidal habitat
The 2002 Comprehensive Spending Review resulted in an additional £150 million being
allocated to flood management over the next three years. Whilst universally welcomed as a step
in the right direction, when this additional funding will be made available and how much will
go towards coastal flood defence is not yet clear. However, it seems likely that it will be heavily
back-loaded with the majority of the additional funding only becoming available in 2005.
At the same time, DEFRA are undertaking a review of the funding and institutional
arrangements of flood management in England and Wales. This offers considerable opportunity
to make both immediate changes as well as put in place a programme of longer term measures
to clarify roles and responsibilities, streamline funding arrangements, speed up the process and
ensure more effective and efficient delivery of sustainable flood management solutions with
multiple objectives. The priority must be to provide clearer guidance on what flood
management should reasonably be expected to deliver through innovative partnerships.
Government has accepted that protecting internationally important sites can be outside normal
funding rules. With a few notable exceptions, how this will be applied in practice remains to be
seen and will have a fundamental impact on how much inter-tidal habitat is created. Where
flood defences are maintained in areas of eroding habitat, there is now an expectation that those
responsible for flood defences will offset the biodiversity losses caused. Equally, where it is not
sustainable to maintain the defences protecting important freshwater habitats such as grazing
marsh and reedbed, it will normally be necessary to offset any loss of freshwater biodiversity
interest caused by managed realignment. Whilst the mechanism to achieve this for international
sites is now well established, this is not yet the case for nationally important sites or
undesignated areas of habitats. More thought needs to be given to when and how to migrate
coastal freshwater habitats further inland in a way that is both legal and practical.
The predicted change in coastal habitats within internationally designated sites due to sea level
rise and coastal erosion is given below:
ESTIMATED LOSS (Ha)
Shingle bank 238
Sand dune 504
Cliff top 133
Wet grassland 3,214
Coastal lagoon 530
Table 2 Estimated habitat loss for SAC/SPA and Ramsar sites in England and Wales (Lee, 1998)
It is important that all coastal flood defence works comply with the requirements of the Habitat
Regulations and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000. In particular, careful use must be
made of the terms ‘mitigation’ and ‘compensation’. It will also be important to seek advice from
the statutory nature conservation bodies and the views of non-governmental nature
conservation organisations like the RSPB, not least because of their reserves in coastal areas.
Government has asked the Environment Agency, Local Authorities and Internal Drainage
Boards (collectively referred to as operating authorities) to take a strategic approach to flood and
coastal defence and has encouraged production of shoreline management plans (SMPs). The
first round of plans for the whole of the coast of England and Wales are now complete. A
comprehensive review of these plans by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF)
revealed that whilst they were a major step forward there were significant shortfalls, notably in
considering long-term coastal evolution, compliance with conservation legislation and links
with the planning system (MAFF, 2000a). New DEFRA guidance for coastal defence authorities
undertaking Shoreline Management Plans was issued in June 2001.
In England and Wales, Coastal Habitat Management Plans (CHaMPs) will be developed
through partnership for many coastal sites, with seven pilot plans being prepared at the time of
writing. The purpose of such plans is to identify the flood and coastal defence works that may
be required to conserve the nature conservation interest of a European site, particularly where
the current line of defence may be unsustainable. Each CHaMP will draw on information in the
relevant SMP, but will revisit the preferred options to ensure appropriate consideration has been
given to conserving the nature conservation interest of sites.
Coastal Flood Defence Policy in Scotland
The policy framework in Scotland is somewhat different. Although the main priorities are to
reduce risks to life and the built and natural environment, the report Scotland’s Coast (Scottish
Office, 1996), suggests that there is less need for sea defences in Scotland as the coasts are
generally ‘harder’ and the effects of sea level rise less noticeable.
Scotland’s Coasts does, however, acknowledge that machair and dune coasts and the Firths may
be experiencing erosion, and are more vulnerable to sea level rise and the increased storminess
associated with climate change. It goes on to accept that environmentally sympathetic
engineering and managed realignment may prove to be the most sustainable options for coastal
defence in the long-term. Nevertheless, the Scottish Executive has done little to promote such
There are several reasons for this. Currently, the emphasis of coastal defence policy has been on
preventing coastal erosion, rather than taking a broader view of reducing and managing flood
risk in a sustainable way. The Scottish Executive sees coastal defence as a local matter to be
dealt with by local authorities and consequently only takes a light guiding overview in such
matters in the belief that local authorities have adequate powers through the Coast Protection
Act and resources to undertake the coastal works.
There is also an absence of a clear lead responsibility for flood defence in Scotland. Whilst the
Scottish Environment Protection Agency has a duty to operate flood warning systems, to advise
local authorities on flood risk and to assess the risk of flooding in any area of Scotland, they do
not have the strategic flood defence role of the Environment Agency in England and Wales.
NPPG 13 - Planning and the Coast (Scottish Office, 1997) established the principles for coastal
developments and, amongst other things, looked at the risk of coastal erosion. Local authorities
are encouraged to take a strategic approach to coastal planning, including the implementation of
Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) where coastal erosion is a problem. However, to date,
SMPs have only been developed for three stretches of the Scottish coast. Recent Scottish
Executive led research reports on the potential impacts of climate change, including Potential
Adaptation Strategies for Climate Change in Scotland (Scottish Executive, 2001). This suggests that a
more strategic, proactive approach is now needed to flood prevention. As a strategy takes
shape, there is a clear need to rethink how flood and coastal defence works are planned and
resourced in Scotland.
3. Progress to date
The coastal saltmarsh and mudflat Habitat Action Plan targets in the UK BAP require the
creation of some 600 hectares of mudflat and saltmarsh every year (English Nature, 1999). In
partnership with landowners and other organisations, the RSPB is actively involved in intertidal
habitat creation at a number of sites around Britain to help meet these targets. Two
examples of this work are given below.
Case Study 1: Freiston Shore, The Wash
Freiston Shore RSPB nature reserve is the biggest example so far of a managed
realignment project in Britain. On the Wash, near Boston in Lincolnshire,
following breaching of the defences in August 2002, the reserve includes 78
hectares of inter-tidal habitat created through managed realignment. Four
organisations have come together to make this possible: H.M. Prison Service as
landowners; the Environment Agency; English Nature; and the RSPB. In
addition to the flood defence and nature conservation benefits, which include a
saline lagoon complex created out of the borrow pits, additional benefits to the
area have been secured through £750,000 of EU support for wider environmental
Case Study 2: Nigg Bay, Scotland
The need to plan for rising sea levels is increasingly being recognised in
Scotland. As part of an extension to our reserve at Nigg Bay in the Cromarty
Firth, the RSPB is pioneering Scotland’s first managed realignment site. The
Heritage Lottery has supported purchase of the site and the realignment project
is being part-funded by Scottish Natural Heritage. The aim is ultimately to
create up to 25 hectares of inter-tidal habitat as part of a much larger wetland
creation project. Breaching of the current sea wall, which is privately
maintained and in part comprises straw bales, will only be carried out
following a full hydrodynamic survey and consultation with landowners.
4. Potential Barriers to achieving inter-tidal habitat creation
Although several managed realignment flood defence schemes are currently being developed,
less than 200 hectares of inter-tidal habitat has been created around the coast of Britain over the
last ten years. This represents the replacement of less than 4% of the habitat that has been lost
since the signing of the Convention on Biodiversity Diversity.
• Lack of knowledge
- Lack of understanding of coastal processes
- Limited technical experience within the UK
- Outcomes are not entirely predictable
- Failure to set conservation targets for specific estuaries or coastal cells
- No common vision for the coast
- Landowner expectations that the traditional approach of ‘hold the line’ to protect
‘Fortress Britain’ will continue
- There is a reluctance to knock holes in ‘good’ sea walls
- Fear of the unknown and reluctance to test innovative solutions
- Unwillingness to enter into genuine partnerships which deliver multiple
objectives through shared responsibility
- Operating authorities fear being accused of not acting in a reasonable way
• Institutional and Funding
- Lack of co-operation between and within organisations
- Shoreline Management Plans lack statutory authority and do not cover all
- Complex bureaucracy, especially where internationally designated sites are
involved, results in schemes taking at least five years to deliver and sometimes
- Cost-benefit ratios appear too low in the short-term where managed realignment
is not to high ground
- Over-reliance on regional and local flood defence budgets which receive varying
levels of DEFRA grant-aid due to the lack of other effective financial incentives
and absence of a dedicated Government biodiversity budget
5. Project methods
Sites were identified primarily through a desk-based study using 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey
maps and other published information such as Shoreline Management Plans, where available.
This information was supplemented through site visits where there was public access or the
landowner or land agent agreed. Further information was obtained through discussion with
local experts and representatives from the National Trust for Scotland and statutory authorities
such as Scottish Natural Heritage, Countryside Council for Wales, English Nature, Environment
Agency and Scottish Environment Protection Agency.
The methods used to identify sites were developed by the RSPB in 1998 during a pilot study
covering the coast of East Anglia. Phase 2, covering the coastline from the Thames to the
Severn, and from the Dee in Wales to the Solway Firth was completed in 1999. The findings of
these first two phases were summarised in an interim version of this report (Temple, 2000).
During 2000, the remainder of the coastline of Britain was completed. The coastline from
Duncansby Head to the Mull of Kintyre was not covered by this study due to its hard geology,
absence of land claim and consequently limited potential for inter-tidal habitat creation.
Potential sites were those where inter-tidal habitat was deemed practical and not to entail
excessive costs. This judgement was based upon the following criteria:
• The site is adjacent to a tidal estuary or the sea
• No developments and minimal infrastructure such as roads or power lines occur in the
• The length of new flood defences required to ensure adjacent areas continue to be
protected must be no greater than the length of any existing structures
• At least five hectares in size
Sites protected by natural sea defences, such as dunes or shingle bars and beaches, were not
included in this study since natural defences cannot be easily realigned and even where
breaching may be feasible, it may be more appropriate to allow them to respond naturally to
storm damage and sea-level rise.
The identification of potential areas was assisted on the Firth of Forth by a study on behalf of
Scottish Natural Heritage, the Forth Estuary Forum, Scottish Environment Protection Agency
and RSPB (GeoWise Ltd. and Glasgow University, 1999). Wherever possible the five-metre
contour was used to determine the landward boundary of a site. However, due to differing
tidal ranges around the coast, this was not appropriate in all of the areas. In the Severn estuary
for example, where tides can reach as high as 8m above sea level, the 10-metre contour was used
to determine a safe height above which there would be no risk of inundation.
Figure 2 - Area studied in Scotland
Figure 3 - Area studied in England and Wales
Overall area of potential inter-tidal habitat creation
The results of this study indicate that 33,169 hectares of inter-tidal habitat could potentially be
created around the coast of mainland Britain. This is illustrated in Figure 4.
Figure 4 – Areas identified for potential inter-tidal habitat creation
The breakdown by region/country (in hectares) is:
East Anglia 13,890 (41.9%)
SE England 6,843 (20.5%)
Scotland 3,242 (9.8%)
NE England 3,170 (9.6%)
NW England 2,281 (6.9%)
Wales 1,970 (5.9%)
SW England 1,773 (5.4%)
Pie chart showing distribution of potential sites by country/region
East Anglia 799 9.9 138.9 100
SE England 2337.8 7.6 201.3 34
Scotland 220 7 52.4 61
NE England 489 11 133.8 23
NW England 472.4 13.7 108.8 21
Wales 236 7 53.24 37
SW England 329.7 5 69.2 26
Mainland Britain 2337.8 5 109.8 302
Table 3: Regional breakdown of results
Number of sites
Number of sites
requiring no new
requiring no new
East Anglia 86 14 1,527 10.99
SE England 29 5 836 12.2
Scotland 37 24 928 28.6
NE England 17 6 733 23
NW England 15 6 997 43.7
Wales 33 4 301 15.3
SW England 16 10 281 15.8
TOTAL 233 69 5,603 16.89
requiring no new
Table 4: Number and percentage area of identified sites requiring no new defences
Length of coastal defences (km)
Current Proposed Difference
50 years (£) 1 .
East Anglia 335.75 129.48 -206.27 618,300 11,287,639
SE England 126.02 35.81 -90.21 270,630 4,940,601
NE England 88.94 52.96 -35.98 107,940 1,970,545
NW England 65.37 21.88 -43.49 130,470 2,381,851
Wales 83.08 47.54 -35.54 106,620 1,946,447
SW England 71.55 24.26 -47.29 141,870 2,589,968
Table 6: Comparison of maintenance costs
The annual cost savings are based on estimated costs to maintain tidal defences of £3000 per
kilometre per year (MAFF, 2000b). The figures exclude the cost of constructing the new walls
required, which will be of a lower defence standard because of the increased frontage of new
saltmarsh and mudflats. This table does not cover Scotland as the comparative figures are not
1 A discounted value indicates the total resource requirement at current prices, or equivalently, the amount of money that would need to be banked
now, earning 5% interest, to meet the costs over the next 50 years.
7. National/Regional Summaries
This region covered the area between the north side of the Thames and the mouth of the
Humber. The evaluation process identified 13,890 hectares of land where inter-tidal habitat
creation may be feasible. This is by far the greatest area of potential, representing just under
42% of the total area of land identified around mainland Britain.
The breakdown in hectares within the region was as follows:
Thames North Shore 38.8 (0.28%)
Roach/Crouch 2474.8 (17.9%)
Dengie Coast 205.8 (1.49%)
Blackwater/Colne 3103.8 (22.48%)
Hamford Water 1058 (7.66%)
Suffolk Estuaries 2925 (21.18%)
North Norfolk 515.1 (3.73%)
The Wash 3488 (25.28%)
North Lincolnshire 81.4 (0.58%)
East Anglia contains the majority of inter-tidal habitat creation sites completed around the coast
of mainland Britain to date. These include Northey, Tollesbury and Orplands on the Blackwater
Estuary, Freiston Shore on the Wash and Aboots Hall in Essex. Although the Wash has the
largest potential for inter-tidal habitat creation, this is unlikely to be realised in the short term
due to the area of agricultural land and value of assets defended, and because most defences are
not under pressure from erosion.
The flood defence need for managed realignment is greatest in areas experiencing higher levels
of erosion, such as on the Essex and south Suffolk estuaries. Here, eroding saltmarsh is allowing
increasing amounts of wave energy to reach existing defences. In some places, saltmarsh has
disappeared completely. The greatest potential within East Anglia is around the Essex estuaries,
where considerable stretches are the subject of a long-term policy in the Essex Shoreline
Management Plan to allow for ‘realignment’. Whilst all Essex estuaries have some potential, the
Blackwater and Colne provide a clear focus with over 3,103 hectares of land suitable for intertidal
Some East Anglian estuaries, such as the Crouch, are so canalised that their flood defences are
only sustainable with massive investment which would not meet current cost-benefit criteria.
Placing sediment dredged from navigation channels and harbours on the foreshore may be an
attractive alternative option in some locations, but unless sufficient sediment is available in the
estuary or along a stretch of coast, the speed of saltmarsh formation is unlikely to keep pace
with rising sea levels. Since the supply of sediment in many Essex estuaries is thought to be
limited, any inter-tidal habitats created in these areas may only have a limited lifespan before
being either eroded away or flooded out.
The breakdown in hectares within the region was as follows:
Thames South Shore 2,987.23 (43.32%)
Medway 823.3 (12.03%)
Swale 1,921.62 (28.08%)
North Kent Coast 195.15 (3.0%)
East Kent Coast 182.16 (2.85%)
Sussex Estuaries 168.21 (2.46%)
Chichester and Langstone Harbours 408.4 (5.97%)
Solent 157 (2.29%)
The southeast provides just over 20% (6,843 hectares) of the total area of potential land suitable
for inter-tidal habitat creation. However, it also represents some of the most densely populated
coastline around mainland Britain and is subject to continuing pressure from further
development, including encroachment into inter-tidal zone. This is despite the area being
subject to the highest rate of sea level rise. Significant areas have also been designated as Special
Protection Areas (SPAs) under the Birds Directive. Opportunities for inter-tidal habitat creation
and the provision of long-term replacement freshwater habitat to offset that lost through
implementation of a scheme are generally limited, and alternative solutions, perhaps involving
provision of new habitat outside the region, may have to be sought.
The breakdown is as follows:
Ross and Cromarty 385 (11.9%)
Beauly 458 (14.1%)
Montrose Basin 220 (6.8%)
Fife and Tay 423 (13.0%)
Forth and Lothian 740 (22.8%)
SW Scotland 106 (3.3%)
Solway 910 (28.1%)
The total area of potential sites for inter-tidal habitat creation identified by this study in Scotland
is 3,242 hectares, 9.8 % of the overall total for mainland Britain. Over 80% of the Scottish total is
concentrated in the major firths.
The Scottish side of the Solway Firth (including Wigtown Bay and Luce Bay) – an area of
international importance for over-wintering bird populations, including golden plover, whooper
swan and barnacle goose – holds a significant proportion (over 28%) of the feasible sites within
Scotland. It is worth noting that, in places, saltmarsh around the Solway extends above the fivemetre
contour, hence the estimation of the potential area for inter-tidal habitat creation in this
Firth may be an underestimation. Implementation of managed realignment in particular on the
Solway Firth presents a number of issues as it remains a largely natural system, with long
stretches of undeveloped shoreline and large areas of inter-tidal habitats that, in the past, have
provided efficient coastal protection.
The Firth of Tay has the highest freshwater flow of any estuary in Britain. This has encouraged
the expansion of reedbeds planted to protect sea defences during the early nineteenth century.
It is important to consider that managed realignment here is likely to result in the expansion of
reedbeds and not saltmarsh. Inter-tidal habitat creation here will therefore contribute little to
the saltmarsh biodiversity target. Southwest Scotland, including the Clyde, contains just only
1% of total potential area in Scotland. This is due to a combination of the heavy development of
the inner estuary and the lack of low-lying land in the outer estuary.
The breakdown in hectares within the region was as follows:
Northeast 312 (9.8%)
Humber 2,858 (90.2%)
Only 312 hectares of land potentially suitable for inter-tidal habitat creation were identified
along the coast of northeast England, reflecting the small size of the estuaries of the region and
their heavily developed nature. This is less than 1% of the total potential around mainland
Britain. A further 2,858 hectares of potential inter-tidal habitat creation has been identified
within the Humber estuary. This accounts for just under 9% of the total area identified around
mainland Britain, and a number of sites are being taking forward by the Environment Agency in
partnership with local communities and other organisations through the Shoreline Management
Northwest England accounts for 6.9% (2,281 hectares) of the total area of sites with potential for
inter-tidal habitat creation. The breakdown within the region is as follows:
Mersey 61 (2.7%)
Ribble 1,312 (57.5%)
Wyre 65 (2.8%)
North Lancashire 95 (4.2%)
Kent and Leven 178 (7.8%)
Duddon 215 (9.4%)
Solway 355 (15.6%)
Running from the north shore of the Dee Estuary to the Scottish border this region has the
shortest stretch of coastline in this study. Despite this, it comprises Morecambe Bay and a series
of major estuaries, which form one of the most important wetland complexes for migratory and
wintering bird populations in the UK.
The results of this study suggest that most opportunities to create new areas of inter-tidal
habitat within the region lie along the Ribble Estuary and further north along the Solway, as
these collectively contain over 73% of potentially suitable areas. Although the region is under
less immediate threat due to a slower rate of sea level rise, inter-tidal habitat creation is still
needed to compensate for losses to coastal squeeze and land claim.
The regional breakdown is as follows:
Severn 1,042 (52.9%)
Swansea and Llanelli 96 (4.9%)
Pembrey and Taf 138 (7.0%)
Dyfi 101 (5.1%)
Dysynni and Mawddach 88 (4.5%)
Artro and Dwyryd 114 (5.8%)
Conwy 288 (14.6%)
Dee 105 (5.3%)
Despite having a relatively long coastline dominated by hard geology, this study identified 1,970
hectares of potential land, just over 6% of the total for mainland Britain. By far the greatest
potential occurs in south Wales, which supports 1,274 hectares of potential land suitable for
inter-tidal habitat creation.
The largest extent of claimed land in Wales exists along the north shore of the Severn estuary.
Although some areas have become developed and heavily populated, it still contains by far the
highest percentage (52.9%) of the total potential area for inter-tidal habitat creation in Wales.
Only small-scale opportunities exist elsewhere in Wales.
The southwest presents one of the longest stretches of coastline of the regions studied. With its
hard geology and rugged coastline with extensive sea cliffs, the region accounts for less than 6%
(1,773 hectares) of the total area of potential land identified. The regional breakdown is as
Poole Harbour 175 (9.9%)
South Devon Estuaries 56 (3.2%)
Cornish Estuaries 9 (0.5%)
North Devon 175 (9.9%)
Somerset Estuaries 721 (40.7%)
Severn - South Bank 637 (35.9%)
Research has been progressing into taking forward the most feasible sites, and a number of
small-scale schemes have been successfully commenced in the last two years, notably on the Axe
and the Plym estuary.
A number of conclusions can be drawn from this study, including that:
• There is a considerable area of land potentially suitable for inter-tidal habitat creation
around the coast of mainland Britain
• Over 84% of potential land is within England, with East Anglia and the South East
holding over 62%
• 302 sites ranging in size from 5 to 2,338 hectares were identified
• There are only 42 sites over 200 hectares in size
• Over 80% of sites require some new landward defences and therefore could normally
only be delivered through managed, as opposed to unmanaged, realignment
• There is insufficient area to meet the BAP targets through unmanaged realignment
• The potential sites provide sufficient land to offset predicted losses in coastal habitats,
and meet UK BAP targets for over forty years
In order to achieve the creation and restoration of inter-tidal habitat in a way that delivers the
maximum social, environmental and economic benefits, the RSPB has developed a five-point
• To investigate in more detail the areas identified by this study
• To develop agreement that coastal change needs to be managed
• To secure a strategic approach to inter-tidal habitat creation
• To work in partnership to deliver multiple objectives
• To find the funding required
ACTION: Ground truthing
The areas identified in this report require detailed on-the-ground investigations to determine
which are the most feasible sites to be taken forward. The RSPB has identified six essential
criteria against which potential sites should be assessed.
1. The physical nature of the site
2. Social and cultural considerations
3. Engineering considerations
4. Nature conservation considerations
5. Economic considerations
The ease of assessment of these criteria differs from country to country and they are not,
therefore, equally applicable in England, Scotland or Wales. In Scotland, for example,
landowners have the responsibility for maintaining coastal defences, and information on
condition and cost benefit ratio is not readily available. In Wales, the Environment Agency is
undertaking a survey of sea defences and details of the cost-benefit ratios of proposed schemes
were not available at the time of writing.
1. The physical nature of the site
Large sites are normally preferable because their benefits are delivered on a greater scale
and are therefore better ‘value for money’. The height and slope of a site, its position in
relation to the tidal cycle and the size and energy of waves, all have important influences
on the type and speed of habitat development. Ideally, land should be gently rising for
gradual tidal inundation, wave dissipation and drainage during low tide. Saltmarsh is
more likely to develop in areas where there is little difference in height between land
levels on either side of a flood defence. Sites where the landward side is significantly
lower are likely to develop into mudflat. Where the topography does not initially favour
development of the desired habitat, it may be appropriate to alter land levels, for
instance by the removal of deposits, use of dredged material or a tidal exchange scheme
that encourages sediment deposition.
As sustainable mudflat and saltmarsh development is dependent on long-term accretion,
an understanding of hydrodynamic and geo-morphological processes is essential before
schemes are taken forward. Inter-tidal habitat creation, especially where it involves
breaching previously continuous defences, may alter erosion patterns, as well as the
transport and deposition of sediment. All proposals for inter-tidal habitat creation
should demonstrate that they would avoid unacceptable impacts on existing interests,
such as navigation and shellfish, and contribute to the sustainable management of the
estuary or coastal cell.
Sudden inundation with saline water can lead to the release of minerals from soil. The
likely effects on a coastal system may need to be predetermined and where necessary
monitored during site development. Any subsequent works will need to be planned and
funded. Great care is needed where saline water may intrude into freshwater-bearing
geological strata (such as chalk or gravels), as this could compromise ground water
resources. Such risks may exclude certain sites from selection, at least in the short-term.
2. Social and cultural considerations
Ideally, chosen sites should not conflict with existing flood defence strategies. However,
a policy of ‘hold the line’ in a Shoreline Management Plan need not rule out a scheme
where fresh information indicates it may be a viable option. Other considerations, such
as whether a site falls within a special landscape area, may also impose restrictions.
However, as these designations were often developed at a time when coastal
sustainability was considered a less urgent issue, they may need to be reviewed.
All potential schemes must be discussed with landowners and occupiers from the start.
Without their support, it is unlikely that realignment or tidal exchange will ever be
carried out on a sufficiently large scale to offset current habitat loss. Schemes affecting
one or two landowners will usually be easiest to take forward. However, large schemes
(which are preferable in terms of the benefits conveyed) often involve multiple
landowners. Whilst much land is privately owned, the Crown, Ministry of Defence,
Local Authorities, Church Commissioners, universities and businesses also own
significant areas. Privately owned defences, or those with an uncertain future, may offer
the greatest potential for a scheme in the short to medium term.
Many individuals and organisations have an interest in coastal land. In addition to
seeking local community support, potential schemes will usually also need to get the
agreement of a number of statutory organisations, including the Environment Agency,
English Nature, English Heritage, Scottish Natural Heritage, Countryside Council for
Wales, Scottish Executive, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, relevant Local
Authority and appropriate Ports Authority. Schemes should also be discussed with nonstatutory
bodies, such as Farmers’ Unions, the Country Land and Business Association,
Royal Yachting Association and the Shellfish Association of Great Britain.
3. Engineering considerations
Where it is decided the current line of defence needs to be maintained at least in the
short-term, inter-tidal habitat creation could be created through tidal exchange. Here
consideration needs to be given to the location, height and size of sluices or culverts to
ensure there is adequate movement of water onto and off a site to achieve its
conservation objectives, which should allow for the site developing over time.
Where it is decided the current line of defence is unsustainable to improve or maintain,
there will normally be three options: do nothing (and accept the consequence); minimum
maintenance which allows for gradual change or managed realignment. The last option
will usually involve either lowering or breaching the current defence as the complete
removal of an existing defence will usually be both prohibitively expensive and
unnecessary. Consequently, the number, size and location of breaches will be critical to
success. Other engineering considerations include how continuity of flood defence will
be maintained, whether a drainage system should be excavated, whether works are
required to limit the size of waves within the realignment area and whether the site
should be compartmentalised to reduce the scale of erosion at the breaches and allow
different inundation regimes. Whilst realigning to high ground will be the most
attractive option, the results of this study suggest some lengths of new defence will be
required in over 80% of cases. Managed, rather than unmanaged realignment, is
therefore the way forward.
4. Nature conservation considerations
The RSPB considers that priority should be given to inter-tidal habitat creation in areas
that have supported significant populations of migratory or wintering wildfowl and
wading birds in the past. These will normally be on the larger estuaries. However, since
it is not always practical to restore inter-tidal habitats in the areas where they were lost, a
strategic approach must be adopted. The scale of wildlife surveys needed in advance of
a scheme happening will vary on a site-by-site basis, though will normally have to cover
the full range of interest present. Information on the extent and condition of any intertidal
habitat in front of the current defences may help identify suitable locations for
either a breach or tidal exchange structure.
To conserve existing biodiversity, managed realignment and tidal exchange by
preference should occur in areas of low current nature conservation interest. Although
implementation of the Habitat Regulations is offering some early opportunities to create
inter-tidal habitat, notably because of the legal requirement for compensatory habitat,
this is also seen by operating authorities as one of the main blockages to getting schemes
delivered. This is not only because of their complexity but also the difficulty in reaching
agreement on the way forward. As more schemes pass through the legal process, clearer
guidance on the interpretation of the regulations will hopefully be forthcoming.
Site selection should also be based on their predicted longevity and where habitats are
expected to develop rapidly. Finally, wherever possible, the area included in a scheme
should be of sufficient size to support freshwater or brackish habitats on the landward
side of the new defence, as is the case at the new RSPB reserve at Freiston Shore.
5. Economic considerations
Flood management schemes undertaken in England and Wales will be subject to a costbenefit
analysis. Part of this will involve an assessment of the value of the assets
protected. This may be based on market value or replacement costs for assets such as
power lines. In determining whether a scheme provides an economic flood defence
option, an assessment must also be made of all the costs associated with site acquisition
and creation. Due to the high level of uncertainty associated with schemes it may be
difficult to accurately forecast costs, especially where work may need to be carried out in
tidal areas or there may be limited information on ground conditions.
The process, in England and Wales, for appraising the costs and benefits of flood defence
schemes is currently under review. The RSPB hopes that both the environmental and
social benefits of schemes will be taken into account more effectively following this
review, and that the economic implications of a scheme will be considered over a longer
time-frame than has traditionally been the case.
ACTION: UK and devolved Government and stakeholders to agree that coastal
change must be actively managed
DEFRA has indicated that where public investment in maintenance or improvement of defences
can no longer be economically justified, then the most sustainable option could be to do nothing.
They seem to believe that land will eventually have to be abandoned for which there would, in
most circumstances, be no payment to landowners. In Scotland, many defences are privately
owned and the onus therefore on landowners to maintain them. In some areas this has led to
poor maintenance and in extreme cases unmanaged realignment is occurring. Both approaches
overlook the risks associated with the unpredictable consequences of a doing nothing. For
example, natural breaches can endanger life, property or archaeological sites, have health and
safety implications for coastal users, and cause adverse impacts on navigation.
From a biodiversity point of view, abandoned defences may also remain intact for several years,
resulting in further losses of inter-tidal habitats. Even when they do breach, there is no
guarantee that priority conservation habitats will be created. Doing nothing may therefore
result in non-compliance with the Habitats Directive and a failure to meet biodiversity targets.
This study also demonstrates the scarcity of sites where realignment to rising ground is possible
(less than 17% of the total available area). This will make unmanaged realignment impractical
in many parts of the country, for example along much of north Kent, the Essex coast, the Wash
and the Humber. Unmanaged realignment in such areas would result in flooding of homes and
properties. Not surprisingly, ‘do-nothing’ is generally unpopular with coastal authorities,
landowners, occupiers, local communities and local interest groups.
The RSPB believes that the ‘do-nothing’ option is only acceptable where realignment is to rising
ground, the landowner agrees to the abandonment of defences, the risks to life, property and
other interests have been assessed as very low and local rates of inter-tidal habitat loss are
minimal. This does not amount to unmanaged realignment, but to a thorough and planned
assessment of the risks and benefits of allowing defences to deteriorate naturally.
ACTION: UK and devolved Governments to adopt a strategic and practical approach
to inter-tidal habitat creation
So far, the creation of inter-tidal habitat in Britain has largely been opportunistic or the result of
unplanned breaches in sea defences. Such an ad hoc approach is manifestly failing to meet the
UK Biodiversity Action Plan target to prevent a reduction in the overall area of resource (termed
‘no net loss’). Coastal Habitat Management Plans (CHaMPs) may ultimately help in England and
Wales, but as only seven pilot plans are being prepared, this will not be before further
catastrophic habitat loss has occurred. Also, CHaMPs are not being developed in Scotland.
The RSPB believes that DEFRA should strengthen Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) in
England and Wales as a matter of urgency. In Scotland, a more strategic approach to Shoreline
Management Planning is needed, facilitated by central guidance and resources from the Scottish
Executive. Strengthening Shoreline Management Planning would not only help to fast-track
inter-tidal habitat creation schemes, but also deliver associated obligations under the
forthcoming Water Framework Directive. The Directive will require coastal management issues
to be considered within the framework of River Basin Management Plans, and will set standards
for good status of coastal and transitional waters which are likely to be influenced by any
modifications to coastal morphology.
To redress this situation, inter-tidal habitat creation must be planned on an estuary or coastal
cell scale as part of a sustainable flood defence strategy. Such ‘coastal cell’ planning, bringing
together interests such as biodiversity, navigation, tourism, fisheries and flood defence could be
delivered through SMPs. However, at present these plans are largely limited to flood defence
and coastal protection, have no statutory basis and do not adequately cover estuarine sites.
It may be many years before potential sites become actual projects. In the mean time, other than
in exceptional circumstances, they must be protected from inappropriate development. Without
such protection, the potential they offer for sustainable coastal management will be lost. This is
in line, in England and Wales at least, with the recently published new Planning Policy
Guidance Note 25 on Development and Flood Risk. This guidance specifically states that in
‘allocating or permitting sites for development, authorities should seek to avoid areas that will be needed,
or have significant potential, for coastal managed realignment or washland creation as part of the overall
flood defence strategy for coastal cells and river catchments’.
ACTION: Promote a partnership approach to deliver multiple objectives
Many different community groups and land-owing interests wish to be involved in how
Britain’s coasts are managed. Achieving the maximum benefits from a scheme and conversely
minimising the possible adverse impacts, demands partnership working. All potential
beneficiaries should jointly develop scheme objectives. Members of the partnership should then
establish clearly defined roles and responsibilities, to ensure effective delivery.
Coastal landowners seldom wish to see farmland ‘lost’ to the sea. However, it is worth noting
that the target to create around 600 hectares of saltmarsh and mudflat per year represents less
than a third of the area of farmland converted to housing each year just in England (DEFRA,
There is clearly a role for conservation organisations in helping to facilitate and deliver intertidal
habitat creation. Because of the international importance of coastal habitats to wading
birds and wildfowl, the RSPB see inter-tidal habitat creation as one of the highest nature
conservation priorities. To encourage the development of partnerships, we are helping to
identify potential sites and talking with landowners and communities about the implications of
schemes. We are also helping to set conservation priorities at local, regional and national levels
and carefully planning the future of RSPB coastal reserves. We will continue to seek appropriate
changes in flood defence policy and are intending to continue to acquire land to facilitate intertidal
habitat creation. This is deemed necessary in the short-term to deliver action on the
ground. In the long-term, however, biodiversity targets will only be met by making inter-tidal
habitat creation part of mainstream flood and coastal defence policy, and through the provision
by UK and devolved Governments of a dedicated budget for biodiversity.
ACTION: Find the funding
There are five major cost elements to inter-tidal habitat creation schemes: planning, land
acquisition, engineering works, site management and monitoring. In most cases, acquiring land
poses the greatest financial challenge.
Flood defence budgets in England & Wales
There is a compelling argument that flood defence budgets should significantly contribute to
acquiring the necessary interest in a piece of land, such as freehold or lease hold, to help deliver
the saltmarsh and mudflat biodiversity targets. This is particularly important where schemes
are being carried out to achieve compliance with the Habitat Regulations. However, even when
schemes are needed to meet such legal requirements, DEFRA currently will only fund part of
the costs, leaving the remainder to operating authorities. The RSPB considers projects driven by
such imperatives should be eligible for 100% grant-aid from Treasury.
Where realignment is not to rising ground, high up-front costs can make it difficult for flood
defence committees to fund schemes when they are working to annual budgets and five-year
programmes. This initial outlay will often ‘bias’ cost-benefit analyses towards schemes with
lower up-front costs and away from those whose benefits would be felt over the longer term.
This problem is compounded by economic appraisals failing to take full account of social and
environmental benefits such as recreation and wildlife, or to quantify the cross-compliance with
other Government objectives. A revised approach that takes into account a fuller range of the
true costs and benefits over a longer time-scale would help to address this problem.
The DEFRA consultation at the end of 2001 suggested that land acquisition as part of a strategic
approach may be eligible for grant-aid. However, DEFRA considered there would be very few
cases where this would actually occur. One of the most serious barriers to operating authorities
funding managed realignment and tidal exchange schemes therefore continues to be the
restrictions imposed by Government on grant–aid for land purchase. The RSPB believes that
this constraint should be revised, enabling land-purchase grants to be given where these will
assist with the achievement of national biodiversity targets.
It would though be unreasonable to expect flood defence budgets to meet the entire cost in all
circumstances. There is a compelling argument that when coastal landowners allow land to be
used as part of a coastal management strategy that provides public benefit, they should receive a
payment. One way could be through establishment of a national coastal management or coastal
biodiversity budget. Payments could be linked to the contribution made to achieving
biodiversity targets so as not to create excessive demand on Treasury funds. The RSPB is calling
for Government to provide direct funding to meet agreed biodiversity targets.
Flood defence funding in Scotland
If managed realignment is to be taken seriously as a measure to mitigate loss of inter-tidal
habitats, and as a sustainable and long-term flood defence option in Scotland, then additional
resources will be required. Unlike in England & Wales, there is no dedicated flood defence
budget in Scotland. The lack of such a budget and absence of a lead agency to take a strategic
overview of the allocation of such a budget and flood defence as a whole in Scotland, stands as
the largest current limitation to promoting inter-tidal habitat creation. This alone questions the
ability of the current system to help Scotland’s coasts adapt to the predicted impacts of climate
change. As such, the RSPB is calling for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to be given
appropriate powers and resources, including through the establishment of a national coastal
management budget, to enable them to take a more sustainable approach.
Rather than just seeking to purchase land to achieve inter-tidal habitat creation, an alternative
option could involve offering landowners incentives to have their land flooded. Whilst there is
a saltmarsh creation option under Tir Gofal in Wales and an inter-tidal option under
Countryside Stewardship in England, there are no such options in Scotland under the Rural
Stewardship Scheme. To date no saltmarsh has been created through Tir Gofal and there has
been limited uptake of the Countryside Stewardship option.
The RSPB has carried out a survey of landowners and land agents along the East Anglian coast
to find out why uptake is so poor. The results show that the scheme is not attractive because of
the low-level of payments, the short period for which they are payable and that the fact that
they did not reflect true business costs. Whilst recognising that agri-environment could be a
useful way of helping to facilitate inter-tidal habitat creation, it is now accepted that the current
scheme needs to be much more attractive. In addition, suitable financial incentives will be
needed in Scotland, where current plans and institutional frameworks are poorly equipped to
promote sustainable flood defence policies, and agri-environment payments may therefore be
crucial to delivery.
Contributions could also be sought from non-statutory partners, particularly where they are
likely to be beneficiaries of the schemes objectives. This may require putting together innovative
funding packages. In addition to potential Heritage Lottery Funding and European sources,
there may also be opportunities for activities like soil stripping, mineral extraction or the
disposal of dredgings in advance of a scheme to fund inter-tidal habitat creation.
Funding may also be available from conservation bodies. The RSPB has for example allocated
£1 million over the next five years to acquire land for inter-tidal habitat creation. In this way, we
are actively contributing to, and hope to strengthen, partnerships to conserve coastal wetlands.
However, such action on the part of charities can never be a substitute for Government
commitment to fund wildlife conservation. Biodiversity targets for saltmarsh and mudflat will
not be met by solely relying on the creation of nature reserves by voluntary conservation
organisations. Government will only meet these targets through a combination of policy change
and direct financial commitment.
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