There are many ways to manage our coastlines against coastal erosion, sea level rise and flooding. Traditionally, hard engineering management involves using artificial structures, whereas soft engineering management is a more modern day technique which is often a more sustainable way to manage the effects of coastal erosion and flooding.
In decades gone by, humans have drained coastal salt marshes to create vital farm land. Along the south-east coastline of Sussex, farming has been the main use of land where this has occurred. However, much of this coastline is low lying so it is vulnerable to coastal flooding – especially as sea levels continue to rise.
This coastal management technique involves creating new ‘inter-tidal zones’ between the sea and land where the sea is allowed to flood the land. At Medmerry in Sussex, the earth embankment, originally built in the 1960s to prevent the sea flooding the land, has now been breached so that natural mudflats are slowly being created by the advancing tide.
In what way is the managed realignment scheme sustainable?
In order for any development or idea to be regarded as sustainable, it should provide economic, social and environmental benefits.
Social benefits – the natural salt marshes are able to store large quantities of water which act as a buffer to erosion therefore reducing the risk of flooding to nearby communities. In addition the salt marsh is a popular site to go walking or observe wildlife, which benefits local people.
Economic benefits – farmers have found that cows which graze on salt marsh grasses have a higher percentage of salt which is favoured by consumers, who in turn are prepared to pay more for the desirable taste. In addition, tourists from the surrounding area may visit the salt marsh and spend money in local businesses.
Environmental benefits – the creation of a natural salt marsh and mudflat provides a sanctuary for many habitats and wildlife to flourish.