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Coastal management

Management strategies

Physical management of the coast attempts to control natural processes such as erosionerosion: Erosion is the process whereby rock or soil is worn away by the action of the wind, waves or water. and longshore drift [longshore drift: A tide or current that flows along the coast, taking material with it. ].

Hard engineering

Hard engineering options tend to be expensive, short-term options. They may also have a high impact on the landscape or environment and be unsustainable.

Hard engineering solutions

Type of defencePros and cons

Building a sea wall

A wall built on the edge of the coastline.

Waves in Porthleven during a storm

Waves in Porthleven during a storm


Protects the base of cliffs, land and buildings against erosion. Can prevent coastal flooding in some areas.


Expensive to build. Curved sea walls reflect the energy of the waves back to the sea. This means that the waves remain powerful. Over time the wall may begin to erode. The cost of maintenance is high.

Building groynes

A wooden barrier built at right angles to the beach.

Hopton Sea Wall, Norfolk

Hopton Sea Wall, Norfolk


Prevents the movement of beach material along the coast by longshore drift.

Allows the build up of a beach. Beaches are a natural defence against erosion and an attraction for tourists.


Can be seen as unattractive.

Costly to build and maintain.

Rock armour or boulder barriers

Large boulders are piled up on the beach.

A boulder barrier in Nice, France

A boulder barrier in Nice, France


Absorb the energy of waves.

Allows the build up of a beach.


Can be expensive to obtain and transport the boulders.

Soft engineering options

Soft engineering options are often less expensive than hard engineering options. They are usually more long-term and sustainable [sustainable: Doing something in a way that minimises damage to the environment and avoids using up natural resources, eg by using renewable resources. ], with less impact on the environment.

There are two main types of soft engineering.

  1. Beach management
    • This replaces beach or cliff material that has been removed by erosion or longshore drift.
    • The main advantage is that beaches are a natural defence against erosion and coastal flooding. Beaches also attract tourists.
    • It is a relatively inexpensive option but requires constant maintenance to replace the beach material as it is washed away.
  2. Managed retreat
    • Areas of the coast are allowed to erode and flood naturally. Usually this will be areas considered to be of low value - eg places not being used for housing or farmland.
    • The advantages are that it encourages the development of beaches (a natural defence) and salt marshes (important for the environment) and cost is low.
    • Managed retreat is a cheap option, but people will need to be compensated for loss of buildings and farmland.

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