Restoring natural coastal systems is increasingly viewed as an effective strategy to adapt and enhance resilience to the adverse effects of climate change in coastal areas, which are projected to experience severe impacts due to increased exposure to coastal flooding and erosion hazards under rising sea levels (IPCC, 2019). Growing numbers of approaches to restore coastal dynamics by working with natural processes to manage vulnerable coastal areas, including beach nourishment, dune rebuilding, wetland restoration and managed retreat, have emerged as key nature-based solutions (NBS) in the past decade (e.g. Temmerman et al., 2013). In many cases, these approaches have been implemented as demonstration projects in protected areas, in estuaries or fronting urban, high-density settlements (Bridges et al., 2018). However, often remote and sparsely populated rural areas can still have surprisingly relevant levels of coastal occupation, from buildings, infrastructure, cultural heritage and resources that connect these communities and sustain rural livelihoods. As such, robust adaptation approaches that are specifically suited to the challenges of rural coastal areas need to be urgently considered, embedding interrelated aspects such as the evidence-base on coastal environmental change, now and in the future, and associated risks to communities, coupled with the legal and policy frameworks, sustainable financing, government and community support necessary to identify and implement rural coastal adaptation options.
In Scotland the vast majority of the coast is characterized as rural, but with important distinctions between accessible and remote rural and, notably, with present and future erosion and flooding placing relevant assets at risk across all coastal cells in Scotland (Hansom et al., 2017). Since 2016 the Scottish Government’s Dynamic Coast project [www.dynamiccoast.com] has transformed the evidence base of past, recent and anticipated coastal change across Scotland and further enhancements expect in winter 2020/1. Whilst this is rekindling interest in targeted coastal planning instruments such as Shoreline Management Plans, an urban-rural divide remains, leaving non-urban shores disproportionately under-resourced in monitoring, detailed planning policies and dedicated funding mechanisms to increase resilience and implement coastal adaptation actions. Research in this area is thus urgently needed, to identify the rural areas requiring adaptation, the suite of NBS that can be used and the policy, financing and social enablers that can better support NBS implementation. The recently announced and unprecedented provision of ~£12m of Scottish Government funding for coastal adaptation, means that this research project is extremely timely and would directly support proactive adaptation to rural coastal climate change (Brown et al., 2017).
This project will thus integrate and extend the data-rich context made possible by Dynamic Coast project, in order to support local decisions for implementing NBS in rural Scotland. It builds on the latest Dynamic Coast research and aims to investigate coastal processes in vulnerable low-density coastal areas and work with partners to identify options for implementing nature-based adaptation measures that increase environmental and societal resilience of rural coastal communities to erosion and flood risks in a changing climate. The specific objectives will be to:
1) Perform a national-scale analysis of the suitability of NBS for rural coastal areas using the extensive datasets from Dynamic Coast and SEPA, to inform opportunity mapping from a physical, social-science and governance perspective.
2) In specific representative coastal hazard hotspots, examine coastal-change processes to identify which NBS are best suited for improving the resilience of rural coastal areas from increased coastal hazards due to climatic and environmental change.
3) Perform a multilevel governance assessment of Scottish coastal areas to explore national, regional and local windows of opportunity to implement nature-based adaptation measures in low-density coastal areas.
4) Explore how rural coastal communities and stakeholders perceive and support the implementation of nature-based coastal adaptation approaches for addressing present and future coastal hazards.
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View of the Ullapool coast in the NW Highlands, where coastal occupation developed on a low-lying gravel fan-delta.