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Stage 1: Before you start

Background information

Human activities are affected by landscape features. People like to visit the coast on holiday and during short-breaks. A sandy beach is an important tourist resource. Provision for safe storage of boats and caravans is also needed. Coastal towns are important conference centres. Some people have second homes at the coast. Coastal land is also suitable for animal grazing and the growing of crops.

Industries are sometimes built at the coast. Ocean-going ships can deliver raw materials and take away finished products. 40% of UK manufacturing industry lay close to the coast in 1999. Many power stations are found at the coast because a great deal of water is needed for cooling. There is often a great deal of flat land available.

Yet the coast can be dangerous. Low-lying land is at risk from flooding. Cliffs can collapse and landslides can happen. Sea levels are projected to rise as the effects of global warming become more apparent. Coasts are threatened by pollution from industrial effluent and domestic sewage. Vegetation has been removed by farmers and developers. On a smaller scale, litter from tourists, gravel and sand extraction from beaches and trampling have altered the state of the coast.

Coastal management is about making the coast safer for people to use it. There are several ways in which the coast can be protected. One way to think about this is to consider the aims of coastal management. Methods of 'holding the line' are probably the most straightforward to investigate in the field.

Do nothing Let nature take its course so that, for example, coast erosion would not be fought
Hold the line Keep the coastline at its present position by maintenance and building as required
Retreat the line Let natural processes slowly move the coastline back to a line which can be more readily stabilised
Advance the line Define a line in the seaward direction and build up to it by reclamation

Wooden groynesHold the line

(a) Groynes

A groyne is a wall made either of concrete or strong wooden posts and planks. It extends from the coastline to the level of low tide. It is designed to halt longshore drift. The groyne acts as a sand trap. Sand piles up on the side facing the direction from which longshore drift advances. Usually a series of groynes is built along a beach. Piers and breakwaters have a similar effect on longshore drift to groynes

Groynes are successful in preventing a beach from being removed. In some places, such as a tourist resort, it is essential to keep a large beach from being eroded away. Tourists visit the resort so that they can relax on the beach. But groynes can stop sand from reaching places further down the coast. These places can experience more severe erosion.

Groynes diagram 

Torcross sea wall(b) Sea walls

In places where there are violent waves, the coast can be protected from erosion by the building of sea walls. Many sea walls have a concave vertical face to deflect the force of the waves. Some sea walls have a long sloping ramp on the seaward side. This helps to dissipate the energy of the waves. Sea walls have the disadvantage of blocking out views of the sea.

Sea wall diagram 

(c) Drainage systems

Some cliffs are at risk of collapsing. Water within the cliff's soil may add extra weight to the cliff, making it more likely to collapse.

S.U.S.T. - Saturation, Undercutting, Slumping and Transportation.

In some places, drainage channels and pipes have been built within the cliff. They are designed to take the water out of the soil.

Rip-rap Hallsands(d) Other engineering structures

In many cases they will protect an adjacent beach, but cut off sediment supply down the coast, causing accelerated erosion. Rock armour (or rip rap), a line of boulders, is designed to absorb wave energy. Gabions (pebbles in wire cages) have the same function.

(e) Protection of sand dunes

Sand dunes are particularly fragile coastal ecosystems, as they have such open vegetation. Afforestation is a traditional method of stabilisation. This has the advantage of protecting coastal settlements and providing amenities. However, afforestation may cause over-stabilisation of the sand, thus restricting new dune development. Marram can also be planted to stabilise sands, and wood from forestry trimmings can be added.

The most complex method of dune protection involves developing an integrated management programme. The distribution of size of the dunes is first surveyed. Then different parts of the dunes are designated for particular purposes, such as coastal protection, wildlife protection and recreational use. Recreation is managed by building walkways across the dunes and fencing off unstable areas from trampling. Fences must not be too secure or permanent, otherwise sand builds up against the fence.

Retreat the line

There are limits to what humans can do to stop coastal erosion. Coastal protections, such as groynes and sea walls, are also expensive. In some places, local councils have decided to do nothing at all to stop erosion. People are moved from the coast and their houses are demolished or left to fall into the sea. Future coastal development is planned and controlled so that areas of scenic beauty of wildlife importance are conserved. Planning permission is not granted to new developments in areas at risk of erosion.

Beach nourishmentAdvance the line

Beach nourishment

There is now evidence to suggest that much of the sand and shingle which replenishes beaches is largely a relict feature. Much of it was deposited in the sea during the last glacial when sea levels were much lower.

Beach nourishment is carried out in places where the sand is being eroded, or where a beach is an important tourist resource. Sand and shingle are brought to the new beach from elsewhere. Alternatively, sediments are dredged and pumped from one side of a groyne to the other.

Questions to investigate

Shorter investigations into coastal management can be purely physical, such as

To investigate variations in beach characteristics, between a managed and unmanaged section of the beach at x

What is the effect of groynes on beach sediment characteristics?

How does the jetty at x affect the profile of the beach?

Longer investigations might include an enquiry into the success of a coastal management strategy and/or local perceptions of coastal management, such as

Assessing the impact of the coastal management at x

How successful has coastal management been in x?

GO TO NEXT STAGE: Fieldwork

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