The National Trust has called for "integrated and informed long-term planning" to help manage the gathering pace of coastal erosion prompted by rising sea levels caused by climate change.
The Trust’s concern was prompted by research which showed that some 60 per cent of its 1,130 kilometres of coast could be affected by coastal erosion within the next 100 years. Some of the Trust’s most important sites are at risk of coastal erosion and flooding.
The conservation body has warned that already 126 of its coastal sites, covering over 4,000 hectares, are at risk of flooding and a further 33 could be affected by tidal and river flooding within the century.
According to the Trust "in many cases it will be necessary to relocate people, habitats and buildings and to do so cost-effectively requires early action."
The Trust has argued that "working with natural processes is the most sustainable approach. In some cases this will mean undoing past mistakes, taking out hard defences and letting the coast realign naturally."
The Trust complained that the present regime for coastal planning is complex and "fragmented" with nearly 30 agencies or authorities involved. "Statutory plans" it said, "rarely take meaningful account of coastal change".
The Trust’s Tony Burton said: "Over the next few decades, extensive coastal change – especially flooding and erosion caused by sea level rise and more frequent storms – appears inevitable. The UK cannot ignore the issue, and all sectors must plan how to adapt to a future of advancing seas."
He added: "As the UK’s largest owner of coastal land, the National Trust is at the forefront of the debate about how to deal with the impacts of sea level rise. We are a barometer of coastal change and wish to share our experience to kick-start a wider debate on how all sectors of the UK need to begin planning co-ordinated responses on how to adapt to the inevitability of sea-level rise before it is forced upon them."