A fifth of Scotland’s coastline is under threat, experts warn

Experts have warned that Scotland could lose a fifth of its coast through erosion. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Experts have warned that Scotland could lose a fifth of its coast through erosion. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
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Nearly a fifth of Scotland’s coastline is under threat of erosion over the next three decades - with property and other developments worth up to £400 million potentially in danger from rising sea levels.

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That was the key finding of a study on the impact of climate change and coastal erosion over the period up to 2050.

The research, carried out by experts from the Scottish Government, University of Glasgow and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), studied the country’s coastline going as far back as the 1890s.

The Dynamic Coast National Coastal Change Assessment tool used information drawn from more than 2,000 maps and one million data points to predict what it could look like in the future, based on past erosion and growth rates.

Speaking at the launch of Dynamic Coast in St Andrews, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham warned: “Since the 1970s, the rates of coastal erosion have doubled, and that pace will not slow down anytime soon. In fact, it will probably get worse and faster.”

But she said the new tool for predicting coastal erosion “is a great new innovation that could help protect existing infrastructure and heritage sites from significant environmental change and damage”.

Ms Cunningham said: “More than 9,000 buildings, 500km of road, 60km of rail track, 300km of water supply lines and vital airport runways, such as Islay, are protected by natural defences; however some of these already face serious damage and it’s vital that local authorities, transport agencies and other planning bodies investigate how they can work together to manage coastal change before it’s too late. Tools such as this will enable them to do just that.”

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Prof Jim Hansom, principal researcher from the University of Glasgow, said: “Since the 1970s the extent of erosion is up 39%, the erosion rate has doubled and accretion extent (growth of sediment deposition) is down 22%. This is what we’d expect with climate change.

“That means we are seeing a net loss of our coastline. The clock is ticking and we need to start adapting to avoid unnecessary costs.”

Professor Robert Furness, chair of SNH’s Scientific Advisory Committee, said: “Our research shows there is a lot of work to be done to protect Scotland’s coastal infrastructure.

“Fortunately, about £13 billion worth of property, roads and other infrastructure is already protected by natural features such as beaches and dunes, with another £5 billion worth lying behind engineered defences. So nature itself protects many massively valuable assets.

“However, we must also be aware that £400 million worth of property, roads and infrastructure lies along coastlines that could be affected by erosion by 2050. Our mission now is to ensure we do all we can to protect these areas.”

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