There is discussion about how the coast should be managed. There is debate about the costs and benefits of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ engineering.

BBC Bitesize – coastal management video

There are two main ways in which you can manage coasts: hard and soft engineering. Hard engineering focuses on humans trying to control the environment and tends to be more expensive. Soft engineering aims to work with the environment and is more ecologically sensitive.

Hard engineering

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Sea walls

A wall made out of a hard material such as concrete that reflects the waves back into the sea.

Prevents erosion of the coast

Acts as a flood barrier

Creates a strong backwash which erodes under the wall

Very expensive to build and maintain




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Wooden or stone fences that are built at right angles to the coasts which trap material transported by longshore drift.

Create bigger beaches which can absorb wave energy reducing erosion

Bigger beaches also give greater protection from flooding

Fairly cheap

Prevent areas further along the coast from receiving material which make those beaches narrower and allow increased erosion

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Rock armour

Boulders of more resistant rock are placed in front of the cliff/coast

Boulders break up waves and absorb their energy thus reducing rates of erosion and flooding

Fairly cheap

Boulders can be moved by strong storm waves so may need replacing




Soft engineering

Beach nourishment

Sand from elsewhere (e.g. the offshore seabed) is added to beaches to replace material lost

Creates bigger beaches which can absorb wave energy reducing erosion and flooding

Expensive as beach material has to be frequently topped up

Taking material from the seabed can kill organisms like sponges and corals




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Dune regeneration

Creating or restoring sand dunes by either nourishment or planting vegetation to help stabilise sand

Dunes provide a barrier between the land and sea

Wave energy is absorbed reducing erosion and flooding

Stabilisation is relatively cheap

Protection is limited to area with dunes

Nourishment is expensive



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Marsh creation

Planting vegetation in mudflats along the coast to turn them into marshes

Vegetation stabilises the mudflats and reduces wave speeds which reduces erosion and flooding

Creates new habitats

Doesn’t work where erosion rates are high as the marsh won’t be able to establish itself

Quite expensive


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Managed retreat

Removing an existing sea defence and allowing the land behind it to flood

Eventually the land will become marsh creating new habitats

Marshland slows waves down reducing erosion and flooding for the land behind the marsh

Quite cheap

People may disagree about which land is allowed to flood e.g. flooding farmland would affect the livelihood of farmers

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Case study – Holderness

Geo factsheet – Holderness coastal management

Homes under threat on the Holderness coastline – video

Place Strategy Bridlington 4.7km sea wall and wooden groynes Hornsea Sea wall, wooden groynes and rock armour Mappleton Two rock groynes – they were built in 1991 costing £2million and were built to protect the village and a coastal road from flooding Withernsea Groynes and a sea wall. Some rock armour was placed in front of the sea wall after it was damaged by severe storms in 1992 Spurn Head Groynes and rock armour

These strategies do help to protect the coastline but they do cause problems as well.

  • The groynes do protect the area they are directly in front of but reduce the amount of material transported by the longshore drift along the coast. This increases the rate of erosion further along the coasty as beaches become narrower e.g. Cowden Farm, which is south of Mappleton, is now at risk of falling into the sea.
  • The material created from the erosion of the Holderness coastline is normally transported south across the Humber Estuary and along the Lincolnshire coast. By reducing the amount of material that is eroded and transported the risk of flooding further south is increased.
  • The rate of coastal erosion and retreat along the Lincolnshire coast is also increased due to a lack of material supplying the beaches there.
  • Spurn Head (a spit) is at risk of being completely eroded away because less material is being added to it.
  • Bays are forming between the areas protected by sea defences and the areas which are protected are becoming headlands. This makes the headland areas more prone to erosion and means that it becomes more difficult and expensive to maintain the sea defences there.

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