Seas of Change - RSPB

Seas of Change - RSPB

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

October 2002


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.



Summary 4

Introduction 6

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

Scotland 23

Northeast England 24

Northwest England 24

Wales 25

Southwest England 25

8. Conclusions 26

9. Next steps 27

References 35



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

mainland Britain.

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

unmanaged realignment

• 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


Table 1:

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


Sea wall

Sea wall

Sea wall

Mean High

Water Level

Sea wall

Mean High

Water 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

‘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

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

creation schemes.


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:



Mudflat/sandflat 11,459

Saltmarsh 6,996

Shingle bank 238

Sand dune 504

Cliff top 133

Wet grassland 3,214

Reedbed 172

Coastal lagoon 530

TOTAL 23,246

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

• Cultural

- 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

much longer

- 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

Site identification

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


6. Results

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%)

NW England


NE England

East Anglia


SE England

Figure 5:

Pie chart showing distribution of potential sites by country/region



site (ha)


site (ha)


site size


East Anglia 799 9.9 138.9 100


number of


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

requiring new


Number of sites

requiring no new


Area (ha)

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

% identified

requiring no new


Table 4: Number and percentage area of identified sites requiring no new defences


Length of coastal defences (km)

Current Proposed Difference


annual cost

savings (£)


total cost

saving over

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

East Anglia

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

habitat creation.

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.


Southeast England

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.

Northeast England

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

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.

Southwest England

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


Next Steps

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

action plan:

• 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.

Agri-environment funding

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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