Richard Neale, Coastal Engagement Project Manager for Wales, reflects on the effects of the winter storms along the Welsh coastline
Last summer, I received an email from our coastal and marine advisor entitled “Extreme Tides in 2014 – advanced warning”. Astronomical predictions by the National Oceanography Centre were suggesting tides of up to a metre above normal, and if low pressure ‘surge’ conditions coincide, then we were to expect even higher tides.
Few of us thought at the time that the ‘croupier’ that governs the natural world’s machinations was to come up with a royal flush deal. One that delivered a succession of storms that changed the shape of our coastline, destroying homes, lives and livelihoods and prompting a debate that goes to the root of our relationship with the natural world.
This shouldn’t have come as surprise to those of us who have been managing coastline for the National Trust. Ten years ago we published the seminal report, Shifting Shores. This advocated moving from defence as the only response, to a range of solutions that include adaptation. Put simply, if we can work with rather than against the forces of nature we can avoid the agonising human and financial costs and gain a more natural, beautiful and wildlife-friendly coast to boot.
Testimony to our general adherence to this principle is that the National Trust in Wales came off quite lightly as far as structural damage is concerned. Sure, we’ve had to cope with dozens of eroded paths, dislodged bridges and mountains of seaborne flotsam which has cost us tens of thousands of pounds and thousands of hours of staff and volunteer time. But these costs are nothing compared to the £11.4m that Natural Resources Wales estimated was the cost of storm damage to infrastructure along the entire Welsh coast.
The most notable affects that we had to deal with included: the severed path to Rhossili beach, Gower; the loss of most of the car park at Abereiddi, Pembrokeshire, where erosion we’d predicted would take 5-15 years happened in just a couple of days; the near-breaching of the Cemlyn shingle ridge on Anglesey, with implications for the rare tern colony; and concerns for the medieval church and other properties at Llandanwg, Harlech.
Practical solutions to these and many other effects of the storms are now being worked on by my colleagues, armed with the adaptation principles championed in Shifting Shores. But a much greater challenge exists; the hard-wired belief that nature must be bent to our will at all costs. The never-ending story of our coast – and the tale of a certain deluded Anglo-Scandinavian king – stands as a warning to us all in this respect.