Coastal Communities Adapting Together – Exchanging Knowledge and Best Practice across borders

policy exchange programme

For coastal regions, coastal management and climate change adaptation policies are central to developing resilient, adaptive and sustainable coastal communities. As is becoming increasingly clear, the Irish Sea and its coastal communities are already experiencing, and will continue to experience, a wide range of impacts as a result of our changing climate. Through CCAT, we have been working on a suite of different tools, activities and materials that we hope will support coastal communities to better understand the impact of climate change for their local communities.

Part of this is recognising that approaches to coastal management and climate change adaptation vary from place to place, and across different scales – this is evident when we look at the differing approaches being implemented across the Irish Sea.  A key aspect of this in Ireland, for example, is the recent Programme for government, which has committed to progressing a national policy on coastal erosion and flooding in relation to climate change. This will be vital for our coastal communities who are already experiencing serious erosion and flooding issues. We felt that there was a clear opportunity to learn more about how these common challenges were being addressed at a national, local and community scale in the UK, and in Ireland.  Although initially planned to take place an in-person event in Dublin, complete with a field trip to explore the Fingal coastline, 2020 had different plans for us! 

The CCAT team really wanted to organise an event which would allow as much interaction and learning for attendees as possible.  Mirroring the adaptation seen through the rest of the project (see earlier blogs on the climate change game, and also last month’s blog on Geodesign), we changed our thinking to plan a fully online event!

Through this interactive virtual event, co-organised by Cardiff University and Fingal County Council, we brought together an exciting programme of speakers, including practitioners and academics, with expertise in policy making, coastal management, climate change adaptation, community engagement and more. 

Held on 17-19th November 2020, the event had three thematic sessions:

  1. National Policy for coastal management and climate change adaptation and mitigation.
  2. Local Authority response to coastal management and climate change
  3. Community engagement on coastal change, climate adaptation and mitigation.

Attended by between 150-160 people on each of the three days, the event was opened by the Irish Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien, who highlighted the challenges facing coastal communities adapting to climate change and other coastal management issues, and emphasised the importance of collaborative working. Professor Iris Moeller kicked off our programme of speakers, with an inspiring talk on coastal change, and the challenges of nature based coastal protection. Other speakers on the first day included Dr Meghan Alexander, who spoke about the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for improvement within current Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management in England and Wales; Mark Adamson, who gave an overview of the work carried out by the Office of Public Works in Ireland; and two talks from John Buttivant (Environment Agency) and Dr Louise Pennington (Natural Resources Wales), on coastal management in England and Wales, focusing on shoreline management plans and their application in a range of contexts.

Following a successful and engaging first session, Day 2 of the event focused in on efforts being taken by local authorities, local councils and local groups in response to the changes being felt by coastal areas and their communities across the Irish Sea.  Opening the session, Cllr David Healy welcome attendees through a ‘virtual field trip’, emphasising the challenges being faced by the communities around the Fingal coastline, one of CCAT’s case study communities.  Our next two speakers, Hans Visser and Kevin Halpenny, both from Fingal County Council, spoke to us first about the local authority responses to climate adaptation and coastal management across Ireland, with a follow up presentation on how this is being actioned in Fingal.  Our next speaker, Karen Thomas, from Coastal Partnership East, talked to us about their work to develop resilient coastal communities in Suffolk and Norfolk, an area of the English coastline experiencing significant impacts from climate change and associated coastal erosion. Karen showcased the diverse set of tools that are being used by this coastal partnership to engage different communities and audiences across their region in issues relating to coastal management and climate adaptation. This was followed up by Adrian Thomas, from the RSPB, who presented on the experience of an existing managed realignment project at Medmerry, West Sussex. Again, effective and meaningful community engagement was highlighted as being fundamental to the success of this initiative, with Adrian promoting the CHAT principles – Clear, Honest, Accessible and Timely. Our final speaker of Day 2, Daniel Tubridy from GeoPlan, drew insight from his research on river-based flooding, and explored what this means for communities in Ireland, highlighting similar challenges and opportunities to those being experienced by coastal areas.

Given the emphasis on coastal community engagement across the talks, it was only right that our final session focused on this aspect of coastal management and adaptation.  Day 3 was opened by the Chief Executive of Fingal County Council, AnnMarie Farrelly, whose welcome remarks were followed by a series of talks showcasing a range of community engagement projects from across the Irish Sea. First, we hear from Raymond Brett, from the Burrow Residents Association and member of the Fingal Coastal Liaison Group , whose talk on coastal erosion in the Burrow area, and the community response to this challenge stimulated a lot of discussion among attendees.  Next, we heard from Martha Farrell, whose inspiring talk introduced the broad range of activities being carried out by the Maharees Conservation Association in County Kerry – these projects and activities have been developed to encourage adaptation and resilience in the area, and highlighted the challenges facing the community as it continues to feel the impact of climate change.

Our third speaker, Sarah Davies, introduced the CHERISH project, which aims to raise awareness and understanding of past, current and future impacts of climate change on cultural heritage of the Irish Sea region.  Crucially, Sarah’s talk positioned culture and heritage at the centre of conversations about climate change adaptation for the future, and highlighted examples of the work being carried out through the project.  Following this, Dr Alan Netherwood (Cardiff University) talked attendees through the Welsh perspective and lessons learned from the UK Climate Change Committee, including the need for integration, local specificity, and the need to allow sufficient time for change to take place. Finally, Alex Cameron-Smith (Pembrokeshire Coastal Forum) presented the various tools and initiatives being implemented by the CCAT team, including the CCAT motion graphic, the climate change game, and the use of digital technologies and participatory mapping.

Across the three days, our speakers and attendees raised a number of themes and issues, which are summarised below:

  1. The urgency of adapting to climate change cannot be underestimated. Funding, communication and effective engagement with stakeholders and communities are just some of the challenges that must be addressed.
  2. A key overarching theme from the event was one of a call for interdisciplinarity, with cross sector and cross policy working, which takes account of the complex and interconnected system found in the coastal areas of the Irish Sea.
  3. Adaptation and coastal management will not have a ‘one size fits all’ solution; there is, therefore, a need to move from reactive management and decision making, working with communities to develop processes which are more participatory and proactive and recognise the urgency of our changing climate both now and for the future.
  4. There is a need to recognise the coast as a national asset and to enhance community connection and engagement with coastal areas. To achieve this, we need to increase accessibility of the coast to all, raise the profile of the coast as a beneficial public space, build ocean literacy and position coastal communities as ‘ambassadors’ of their coastal areas.
  5. While there are challenges facing coastal areas and communities, there are also opportunities for us to move forward in a positive way – both in terms to approaches to future adaptation and coastal management, as well as fostering meaningful community engagement.
  6. There is both a need and an opportunity for those working in coastal management and climate adaptation to diversify and broaden the toolkit being used to communicate complex messages about the climate and coastal change.

You can find the recordings of the event sessions and the presentations here.

Research Fellow at Cardiff University | Website | + posts