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Glossary of Terms

Here we offer a comprehensive glossary of words and terms used in the field of shoreline management and which are likely to appear in this web site and any of the documents offered for download. 

See also - Abbreviations & Acronyms





























Accumulation of sand or other beach material due to the natural action of waves, currents and wind.

Advance the Line An SMP policy option that allows for the building of new defences on the seaward side of the original defences.
Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Designated by Natural England, the purpose of this statutory designation is to identify areas of national importance and to promote the conservation and enhancement of natural beauty. This includes protecting its flora, fauna, geological and landscape features .


Structural protection (rock or concrete) for the shoreline.

Back beach/ Back Shore

The section of beach extending landwards from the high water mark to the point where there is an abrupt change in slope or material; also referred to as the backshore.


Fully or partially submerged mound of sand, gravel or other unconsolidated material built on the sea-bottom in shallow water by waves and currents.

Beach face

Upper surface of the beach.

Beach nourishment

Artificial process of replenishing a beach with material from another source.  Also referred to as beach renourishment and beach recharge.

Beach profile

Side view of a beach extending from the top of the dune line into the sea.

Berm crest

Ridge of sand or gravel deposited by wave action on the shore just above the normal high water mark.

Biodiversity Action Plan

A national action plan for a key habitat or species, approved by Government, as part of the overall UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

Brackish water

Freshwater mixed with seawater.


A wave as it collapses on a shore.

Breaker zone

Area in the sea where the waves break.

Catchment Flood Management Plan

Large scale strategic planning framework for the integrated management of flood risk to people and the developed and natural environment in a sustainable manner. Broadly equivalent to an SMP, based on drainage catchments, and prepared by the Environment Agency.

Coastal Defence

A term used to encompass both coastal protection against erosion and sea defence against flooding.

Coastal Defence Strategy Plan

A detailed assessment of the strategic coastal defence option(s) for a management unit(s), based on Flood and Coastal Defence Project Appraisal Guidance 2.

Coastal Habitat Management Plan (CHaMP)

A non-statutory management plan which quantifies coastal habitat change, (loss and gain), and recommended measures to prevent future losses to a European designated site or group of sites.

Coastal squeeze

The progressive reduction and loss of coastal habitat area and natural features which can arise if the natural landward migration of a habitat under sea level rise is prevented by man-made defences and structures.

Coastal Zone Management Plan

Plans through which local authorities and others implement planning objectives and policies for an area of the coast, which deal with a range of issues such as landscape management, development, recreation, conservation, etc.


This is a stated actual or perceived problem, raised by an individual or stakeholder. A concern can be strategic or local.


An outcome or impact such as economic, social or environmental impact. It may be expressed as a quantity (e.g. monetary value), categorical (e.g. high, medium, low) or descriptive (see FCDPAG4).


The political/social/economic process by which the environment is protected and resources are used wisely.

Compact Airborne Spectrographic Imager (CASI)

A remote sensing technique usually deployed in a light aircraft for the purposes of classifying land usage and habitat type.

Deep water

Area where surface waves are not influenced by the sea-bottom.


Direction of alongshore movement of beach materials.

Downdrift effects

Impacts occurring in the lee of any coastal activity resulting from associated changes to the coastal processes, particularly sediment supply.


Excavation, digging, scraping, draglining, suction dredging to remove sand, silt, rock or other underwater sea-bottom material.


Accumulations of wind-blown sand in ridges or mounds that lie landward of the beach and usually parallel to the shoreline.


The falling tide, part of the tidal cycle between high water and the next low water.

Economic Appraisal

An appraisal which takes into account a wide range of costs and benefits, generally those that can be valued in money terms.


Organization of the biological community and the physical environment in a specific geographical area.


Where environmental issues are referred to, this term is used to encompass landscape/natural beauty, flora, fauna, geological or geomorphological features and buildings, sites and objects of archaeological, architectural or historical interest.

Environmental Impact Assessment

Detailed studies which predict the effects of a development project on the environment. They also provide plans for mitigation of the adverse impacts.

Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA)

This is an area where special land management payments are available through agreement with Defra to provide farming practices which are beneficial to the environment. This is a non-statutory designation.


The loss of land or encroachment by the sea through a combination of natural forces e.g. wave attack, slope processes, high groundwater levels.


Mouth of a river, where fresh river water mixes with the seawater.

European Site

Any site that has been designated as a site of international nature conservation importance either as a Special Protection Area (SPA), a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) or a Ramsar Site.  In regard to planning considerations it is Government policy to treat potential SPAs, candidate SACs and listed Ramsar Sites as if they were already designated.


Something tangible that provides a service to society in one form or another or, more simply, benefits certain aspects of society by its very existence. This will be of a specific geographical location and specific to the SMP.


Area of water where waves are generated by the wind.


Refers to inundation by water whether this is caused by breaches, overtopping of banks or defences, or by inadequate or slow drainage of rainfall or underlying ground water levels.  Flooding due to blocked drains and sewers or the escape of water from a water supply service will usually be the responsibility of the local water company and does not fall within the scope of a Shoreline Management Plan.


Rising tide, part of the tidal cycle between low water and the next high water.


Zone between the high water and low water marks.


Wire mesh rectangular containers filled with stones.


The study of landforms and land forming processes.

Greenhouse effect

Heating of the earth's atmosphere due to an increase in gases like carbon dioxide.


Shore protection structure built perpendicular to the shore; designed to trap sediment.

Groyne field

Series of groynes acting together to protect a section of beach.

Habitat Action Plan

A biodiversity action plan for a habitat.

Habitat Directive

EC Directive 92/43 on the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora.

Habitat Regulations

The conservation (Natural Habitats & c.) Regulations 1994. This transposes the Habitats Directive into UK Law.


A situation with the potential to result in harm. A hazard does not necessarily lead to harm.

Hold the Line An SMP policy option that involves maintaining or changing the standard of protection provided by the existing defence line by carrying out work in front of existing defences (such as beach replenishment, rebuilding the toe of a structure, building offshore breakwaters, etc).


Imperative Reasons for Overriding Public Interest.


All issues and aspirations are related to flood and coastal defence and grouped or categorised under the three main themes: Technical; Environmental; or Socio-economic.

Key Stakeholder

A person or organisation with a major interest in the preparation of, and outcomes from, a shoreline management plan. This includes agencies, authorities, organisations and private bodies with responsibilities or ownerships that affect the overall management of the shoreline in a plan.

Land reclamation

Process of creating new, dry land on the seabed.

Longshore current

A movement of water parallel to the shore, caused by waves.

Longshore transport

Movement of material parallel to the shore, also referred to as longshore drift.

Managed realignment

An SMP policy option that allows the shoreline to move backwards or forwards, with management to control or limit movement (such as reducing erosion or building new defences on the landward or seaward side of the original defences).

Mean sea level

Average height of the sea surface over a 19-year period.

Maritime local authorities Maritime local authorities have certain permissive powers under the Coast Protection Act 1949 to undertake works to defend the coastline from erosion by the sea (coast protection).

Mean High Water (MHW)

The average of all high waters observed over a sufficiently long period.

Mean Low Water (MLW)

The average of all low waters observed over a sufficiently long period.

National Nature Reserve (NNR)

Sites designated under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 by Natural England. These represent some of the most important natural and semi-natural ecosystems in Great Britain, and are managed to protect the conservation value of the habitats that occur on these sites. Statutory designation.

No Active Intervention An SMP policy option that means no investment will be made in coastal defences or other operations other than for safety purposes.
Non-Statutory Not required by law.


An objective is set, through consultation with key parties, to encourage the resolution of the issue or range of issues. It is a desired state to be achieved in the future.

Offshore breakwater

Structure parallel to the shore, usually positioned in the sea, which protects the shore from waves.

Offshore zone

Extends from the low water mark to a water depth of about 15 m (49 ft) and is permanently covered with water.

Operating authority

A body with statutory powers to undertake flood defence or coast protection activities, usually the Environment Agency or maritime District or Borough Council.


Policy Development Zone (introduced during the SMP review 2009-2010), replaces the Process Units of SMP1.


Long heavy section of timber, concrete or metal, driven into the ground or seabed as support for another structure.


In this context, "policy" refers to the generic shoreline management options (No Active Intervention, Hold the Existing Line of Defence, Managed Realignment and Advance the Existing Line of Defence).

Policy Scenario

The combinations of policies selected against the various feature / benefit objectives for the whole SMP frontage.


Present Value. The value of a stream of benefits or costs when discounted back to the present day. For this SMP the discount factors used are the latest provided by Defra for assessment of schemes, i.e. 3.5% for years 0-30, 3.0% for years 31-75, and 2.5% thereafter.


Designated under the 1971 Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat. The objective of this designation is to stem the progressive encroachment onto, and loss of wetlands.

Residual life

The time to when a defence is no longer able to achieve minimum acceptable performance criteria in terms of serviceability or structural strength.

Residual risk

The risk which remains after risk management and mitigation. It may include, for example, risk due to very severe storms (above design standard) or risks from unforeseen hazards.

Retaining wall

Wall built to hold back the earth.


Shore protection structure made with stones/ rock laid on a sloping face.

Risk assessment

Consideration of risks to people and the developed, historic and natural environment.

Risk management

The activity of mitigating and monitoring risks.

Special Areas of Conservation (SACs)

Designated under the EC Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora), this designation aims to protect habitats or species of European importance and can include Marine Areas, and form part of the Natura 2000 site network. All SACs sites are also protected as SSSI, except those in the marine environment below Mean Low Water.

Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAM)

The main legislation concerning archaeology in the UK is the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. This Act, building on legislation dating back to 1882, provides for nationally important archaeological sites to be statutorily protected as Scheduled Ancient Monuments.

Schedule IV

'Waters excluded for purposes of definitions of 'sea' and 'seashore'' (refer to Coast Protection Act, 1949).


Removal of underwater material by waves or currents, especially at the toe of a shore protection structure.


Massive structure built along the shore to prevent erosion and damage by wave action.


Particles of rock covering a size range from clay to boulders.

Sediment cell

A length of coastline and its associated near shore area within which the movement of coarse sediment (sand and shingle) is largely self contained. Interruptions to the movement of sand and shingle within one cell should not affect beaches in an adjacent sediment cell.

Sediment sub-cell

A sub-set of a sediment cell within which the movement of coarse sediment (sand and shingle) is relatively self contained.


Prescribed distance landward of a coastal feature (e.g. the line of existing defences).


Narrow strip of land in immediate contact with the sea.


Intersection of a specific water height with the shore or beach, e.g. the high water shoreline is the intersection of the high water mark with the shore or beach.

Shoreline management policy

Generic term for any management option, e.g. no active intervention, limited intervention, advance, realign or hold the existing coastal defence line.

Significant effect

Where a plan or project is likely to affect a European Site it is necessary to decide whether or not it would have a significant effect. If there is any doubt, the operating authority must consult English Nature/Countryside Council for Wales. They will advise whether, in their view, the proposed scheme would be likely to have a significant effect.


Deposition of silt-sized particles.

Sensitive Marine Area (SMA)

A generic term used to describe nationally important locations around our coast which require a cautious and detailed approach to management. They are identified by Natural England for their important benthic populations, spawning or nursery areas for fish, fragile intertidal communities, or breeding, feeding, and roosting areas for birds and sea mammals. This is a non-statutory designation.

Shoreline Management Plan (SMP)

It provides a large-scale assessment of the risks associated with coastal processes and presents a policy framework to reduce these risks to people and the developed, historic and natural environment in a sustainable manner.

Site of Nature Conservation Importance (SNCI)

These sites are defined by the Wildlife Trusts and Local Authorities as sites of local nature conservation interest. These are non-statutory but form an integral part of the formulation of planning policies relating to nature conservation issues.

Special Protection Areas (SPAs)

Designated under the EC Birds Directive (79/409/EEC Conservation of Wild Birds), these are internationally important sites, being set up to establish a network of protected areas of birds. Statutory designation.


Accretionary deposit of sand or stones located where a shoreline changes direction, formed by wave action and joined to the shore at one end only.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs)

These sites, notified by Natural England, represent some of the best examples of Britain's natural features including flora, fauna, and geology. This is a statutory designation. designated for their wildlife and/or Earth heritage interest under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.


A person or organisation with an interest in the preparation of a shoreline management plan or affected by the policies produced. This broad interpretation has been taken to include agencies, authorities, organisations and private individuals.  Also see "Key stakeholder".

Storm surge

A rise in the sea surface on an open coast, resulting from a storm.


Used to describe the undertaking of any process in a holistic manner taking account of all associated impacts, interests of other parties and considering the widest possible set of potential options for the solution of a problem. In the context of this document, the word 'strategic' does not imply any particular level in the hierarchy of the planning process.

Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)

A process of systematically appraising the environmental opportunities and constraints of a project, and identifying and managing its implications. SEA is a statutory requirement of certain plans and programmes, under the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004.

Sustainable policies

Sustainable policies lead to coastal defence solutions that avoid tying future generations into inflexible and/or expensive options for defence. They will usually include consideration of interrelationships with other defences and likely developments and processes within a coastal cell or sub-cell. They will also take account of long-term demands for non-renewable materials.


Waves that have travelled out of the area in which they were generated.

Tidal current

Movement of water in a constant direction caused by the periodic rising and falling of the tide. As the tide rises, a flood-tidal current moves in one direction and as the tide falls, the ebb-tidal current moves in the opposite direction.

Tidal inlet

A river mouth or narrow gap between islands, within which salt water moves landwards during a rising tide.

Tidal prism

The volume of water within the estuary between the level of high and low tide, typically taken for mean spring tides.


Periodic rising and falling of large bodies of water resulting from the gravitational attraction of the moon and sun acting on the rotating earth.

Toe protection

Material, usually large boulders, placed at the base of a sea defence structure like a seawall to prevent wave scour.


Configuration of a surface including its relief and the position of its natural and man-made features.


Direction opposite to the predominant movement of longshore transport.

Wave direction

Direction from which a wave approaches.

Wave refraction

Process by which the direction of approach of a wave changes as it moves into shallow water.


Low-lying areas that are frequently flooded and which support vegetation adapted to saturated soils e.g. mangrove swamps.




























Abbreviations & Acronyms




AA Appropriate Assessment.


Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.


Bournemouth Borough Council.


Borough of Poole.


Channel Coast Observatory.


Christchurch Borough Council.


Chart Datum.


Catchment Flood Management Plan


Coast Protection Survey England

CSG Client Steering Group, principal decision-making body for the Shoreline Management Plan


Capital Value. The actual value of costs or benefits.


Dorset Coast Forum

DCC Dorset County Council


Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs.


Environment Agency, may also be referred to as 'The Agency'


English Heritage

EMG Elected Members Group (SMP2), comprising an Elected Member from each of the operating authorities together with Environment Agency Regional Flood Defence Committees


Geological Conservation Review site


Geographic Information System


Highest Astronomical Tide

HCC Hampshire County Council


Historic Environment Record


High Level Target


Integrated Coastal Zone Management

KSG Key Stakeholder Group, which acts as a focal point for discussion and consultation through development of the SMP


Lowest Astronomical Tide


Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (now DEFRA)


Mean High Water Neap tide

MHWS Mean High Water Spring tide


Mean Low Water Neap tide


Mean Low Water Spring tide

MSL Mean Sea Level


Management Unit


Natural England


National Flood and Coastal Defence Database


New Forest District Council


National Monuments Record


National Trust


Purbeck District Council


Poole Harbour Commissioners


Planning Policy Guidance


Public Service Agreement


Policy Unit


Rapid Coastal Zone Assessment Survey


Special Area of Conservation


Standing Conference on Problems Associated with the Coast


Strategic Environmental Assessment


Shoreline Management Plan


A first-round Shoreline Management Plan


A second-round Shoreline Management Plan


Sites and Monuments Record


Special Protection Area


Site of Special Scientific Interest


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