About the SMP

SMP2 in full

The Project Team

The Review

Our Shoreline



Other Documents

Useful Links


The SMP Review has been undertaken by consultants

on behalf of

EA web site linkFrequently Asked Questions

prepared by the Environment Agency


What is the Environment Agency's role in managing coastal erosion and flooding?


What is the Local Authority 's role?


Why is the coast changing?


How do waves cause erosion?


How does erosion affect our coast?


How has our shoreline changed over the years?


How fast is the coast changing now?


How is coastal erosion predicted?


What is dredging and what effect does it have on erosion?


What can be done to reduce the risk of coastal erosion?


What is being done to protect coastal wildlife and habitats?


Where / what do you choose to defend, and why?


How is flood and coastal risk management funded?


How coastal change affects you


How policy is changing


The first Shoreline Management Plans (SMP1s)


The second generation of Shoreline Management Plans (SMP2s)

What is the Environment Agency's role in managing coastal erosion and flooding?

Since 1st April 2008 the Environment Agency (the EA), having managed UK riverine flood risk for many years, has also been responsible for the management of all flood and erosion risk on the English coast.

This means the EA:

  • Takes the lead in managing all sea flooding risk in England.

  • Funds and oversees coastal erosion works undertaken by local authorities.

  • Ensures that proper and sustainable long-term Shoreline Management Plans are in place for the English coastline.

  • Works with local authorities to ensure that the resulting flood and coastal erosion works are properly planned, prioritised, procured, delivered and maintained to get maximum value for taxpayers' money.

  • Ensures that third party defences are sustainable.

What is the Local Authority 's role?

The role of the Local Authority is very important.  Local Authority officers have very good knowledge & experience of the coast, and strong links with the community.  The EA need to work very closely with Local Authorities to deliver a Strategic Overview for sea flooding an coastal erosion risk management.

Why is the coast changing?

Coastal change is a natural, ongoing process that has always happened.

As sea water meets cliffs and shores, it causes sediment or rocks to be broken down and washed out to sea.  In some instances, this material may be moved to a different part of the coast and deposited in large quantities, causing 'accretion' - the opposite of erosion, where shorelines may advance or build up with sediment over time.  In fact, the sand and shingle that makes our beaches is a product of erosion, and to remain in place they need a continual supply of material.

Erosion can happen under any conditions, but its rate tends to increase when waves are powerful and water levels are Tophigh - for instance during storms or in high winds.

How do waves cause erosion?

Waves cause erosion to happen in four main ways:

  • Waves bring with them particles of rocks and sand that grind the cliff down.

  • The constant force of water against the shore wears it away.

  • The action of powerful waves causes rocks and pebbles from the shore to smash into each other and break up.

  • Acids in the sea also slowly dissolve certain types of rocks.

How does erosion affect our coast?

The way erosion changes different parts of our coast depends largely on the type of rock - in other words, its geology.

Erosion of coasts with hard rocks tends to be slower, and can form dramatic rock formations over time, including tunnels, bridges, columns or pillars such as at Lulworth Cove in Dorset.

Where coastal geology is formed out of sedimentary deposits, such as on the soft cliffs around parts of the east coast, erosion can pose more of a risk for human settlements.  Sedimentary rocks, such as sandstone and chalk, naturally erode more easily than hard rocks, so the coast recedes at a faster rate.

Coastal erosion and coastal flooding are often linked.  One may lead to another, especially where an eroding  shoreline Topseparates the sea from flat, low-lying land.

How has our shoreline changed over the years?

Shorelines constantly change due to waves and tides.  The amount of physical change depends on many things, and happens over timescales from seconds to centuries.

The changing coastline has also been influenced by people’s actions throughout the years, particularly in attempts to stop the effect of erosion or flooding.   In some cases, this has taken place without an appreciation of the effect these actions could have on other places up and down the coast.

How fast is the coast changing now?

The tremendous diversity of our coast means that erosion rates vary significantly from area to area.  Some parts of the coast are eroding faster than others.

To put things into context, across England and Wales, about 28 per cent of our coastline is subject to erosion of more than 10 centimetres per year, but rates vary according to location, sometimes reaching an average of as much as 1.8 metres per year. 

In reality, coastal erosion is not always gradual, and can occur through events such as landslips where many metres of land may be lost once every five or ten years.  Rates of erosion are expected to increase by the end of this century because of increasing storms and rising sea levels, brought about by climate change.

Predicting these rates as accurately as possible is, of course, extremely important - not only for the people living in our Topcoastal communities, but also for the EA in our work managing the coast.

How is coastal erosion predicted?

It's crucial that we understand and can predict large-scale, longer-term coastal changes, so that we can manage the risk to coastal settlements and the natural environment more effectively.

To predict erosion, we use a range of advanced monitoring techniques to assess its causes and ongoing impact.  This includes using aerial photographs, maps and surveys of coastal processes, which can then be analysed by teams of scientists.  Records of historical rates of erosion on the coast also inform our predictions of how the coast might evolve in the future.

We can then use this detailed information about our coast to:

  • make predictions about the rate and impact of erosion;

  • assess existing coastal management methods and how cost-effective they will remain over time;

  • make informed decisions about future management, to ensure we tackle coastal erosion issues where the risk is greatest.

We are using the most up-to-date data on climate change, advanced modelling techniques and the best local survey information available to map coastal erosion predictions across England.  These maps will be easily accessible to everyone from the EA's website, so that all who live at, work on and manage the coast are better able to decide how to Topapproach coastal change in their local area.

What is dredging and what effect does it have on erosion?

Dredging is the removal of sand and gravel from the coastline or seabed:

  • to keep waterways navigable

  • to produce material for construction projects

  • to replace the materials lost from beaches as a result of erosion

It is sometimes claimed that dredging causes coastal erosion, or makes it worse, as it has in the past. 

Various studies have recently been carried out to assess whether dredging makes surrounding areas more prone to erosion or not.  Research results, such as those from the Southern North Sea Sediment Transport Study, shows that because dredging is now strictly controlled and carefully managed in UK waters, it no longer has an impact on coastal erosion. 

A licence is required for dredging.  Thorough assessments are carried out to ensure dredging will not have a negative impact on the coastline or the marine environment before a licence is granted.

TopMarine dredging licences are administered by the Marine Management Organisation.

What can be done to reduce the risk of coastal erosion?

There are many measures we can take to defend our coastline against erosion.  This is often a combination of various defence structures and natural features.  These measures can reduce the effects of coastal erosion upon communities and the natural environment.

Coastal management methods fall into two main categories:

  • Hard engineering - man-made barriers such as sea walls and groynes, which reduced the impact of waves on the coast

  • Soft engineering - techniques such as beach replenishment and saltmarsh creation which use natural materials, features and processes to absorb wave impact.

Many successful coastal management methods combine hard and soft techniques.  In each case the effects upon coastal processes and the natural environment are fully explored before management decisions are made.

What is being done to protect coastal wildlife and habitats?

The EA have a legal duty to protect and enhance the natural environment through our operations.  The management of important nature conservation sites that are at risk of coastal erosion or flooding is considered in Coastal Habitat Management Plans (CHaMPs).

Relocating natural habitats

Some forms of sea defence can have a negative impact on the coastal environment.  'Coastal squeeze' occurs when natural habitats become caught between sea defences and the sea.  This can result in the loss of salt marshes, mudflats and beaches.  As these are important feeding grounds for birds and other wildlife, their loss can have serious environmental consequences.  Inter-tidal habitats are also important for local commercial fisheries, as they provide important nursery areas.

Where natural habitats are unavoidably lost, we seek to replace them elsewhere through regional 'habitat creation programmes'.

Working with others

We use a wealth of expertise to carefully assess environmental impact. We work at a local and national level with Natural England, the government agency responsible for promoting the conservation of England's wildlife and natural features.  We also work closely with the many organisations that make up the UK Biodiversity Partnership, who are Topactively involved in conservation work.

Where / what do you choose to defend, and why?

The EA uses public money as effectively as possibly to reduce the risk to coastal communities, their property, infrastructure and the natural environment. Decisions on where to defend are based on risk assessment using a transparent, auditable and understandable process.

Factors we consider include:

  • Number of households at risk.

  • Number of deprived households at risk.

  • Impact of our actions on agricultural land and the farming community.

  • Impact of our actions on the environment and wildlife.

  • Whether erosion affects local community infrastructure and transport.

  • Cost of building and maintenance.

There are four possible outcomes:

  • Hold the existing defence line - maintain existing coastal defence.

  • Advance the existing defence line - new defences on seaward side.

  • Managed re-alignment - shoreline adjusts position in a controlled way.

  • No active intervention - no investment in coastal defence.

Coastal defences often protect against both coastal flooding and erosion.  Inland flooding is also affected by how we manage coastal defences.  Funding for coastal and flood defence is therefore linked.  In each case, a set of agreed indicators called 'outcome measures' are employed to measure how effectively economic, social and environmental Topneeds are met.

How is flood and coastal risk management funded?

In 2009-2010, the Environment Agency will spend £700 million managing flood and coastal erosion risk across the UK.  This budget has more than doubled from 10 years ago, and is set to increase by an estimated £100 million in 2010- 2011.

Despite this large commitment, the scale of coastal erosion means we must prioritise projects to ensure we achieve the best possible results.  Realistically, it is not possible to justify defending all locations to the same standard or in some cases at all.

How coastal change affects you

Coastal change can affect people in both positive and negative ways.  Eroding coasts can place houses, businesses and farmland at risk, yet others may benefit from sediment moving along the shoreline and keeping natural defences such as beaches and marshes healthy.

The risk from erosion can bring problems for home and land owners relating to insurance, property values and planning permission.  Although insurance may be provided against sea flooding, there is no insurance against coastal erosion.

In some locations it is not possible or appropriate to defend against erosion or maintain existing defences.  Where this Topis the case, together with local authorities, we will work closely with communities to help them adapt to the changes.

How policy is changing

Anticipating and responding to these problems is the subject of new policy being developed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The EA are currently supporting the development of new proposals by Defra on how communities can receive practical support to help them adapt  to coastal change.

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is also developing new planning guidance on future development at the coast.

These proposals are open to public consultation and we encourage you to have your say.  Find out more by visiting the links below:

The first Shoreline Management Plans (SMP1s)

The first SMPs were produced in the mid 1990s.  Each length of shoreline is currently managed in a particular way, according to the policies set out in them, but meantime there have been several major studies including:

All these studies have provided new information, and in light of this the current shoreline management policies may no longer be practical or acceptable in the long term.  For example:

  • predications of sea level rise due to climate change have increased dramatically since the first round of SMPs, and need to be incorporated into the second generation;

  • current defences may have a limited life and improvements may not be economically, socially, technically or environmentally practical;

  • changes in the shoreline may result in new approaches being necessary to manage future risks.

The second generation of Shoreline Management Plans (SMP2s)

The second generation of Shoreline Management Plans (SMP2s) are currently in production, covering the entire 6000 kilometres of coast in England and Wales.

Current coastal management objectives are often widely accepted and embedded in local planning policy. Therefore, wholesale changes to existing flood and erosion defence management practices may not always be appropriate in the very short term, and communities, businesses and wildlife habitats all need time to adjust.

Consequently, the SMP2s will provide a ‘route map’ for local authorities and other decision makers  to move from the present situation towards meeting our future needs, and will identify the most sustainable approaches to managing the risks to the coast in the short term (0-20 years), medium term (20-50 years) and long term (50-100 years).

Within these timeframes, the SMP2s will also include an action plan that prioritises what work is needed to manage coastal processes into the future, and where it will happen. This in turn will form the basis for deciding and putting in place specific flood and erosion risk management schemes, coastal erosion monitoring and further research on how we can best adapt to change.


home • about the smp • smp2 • the project team • the review • our shoreline • faqs

smp1 • other documents • useful links • contacts

© 2007-2011 Poole & Christchurch Bays Coastal Group; last updated 05 August 2011

Designed & maintained by VIVID Websites