A “broad range” of policies - including allowing part of the coastline to be reclaimed by the sea - are needed if Cornwall is to adapt to the threat of coastal damage in the face of climate change, it has been warned.
The National Trust – one of the region’s biggest landowners – has been updating its “Shifting Shores” report from 2005 in the wake of the ferocious storms which lashed Devon and Cornwall in January and February.
Storm force winds, high tides and heavy rain caused millions of pounds worth of damage to road and rail infrastructure as well as coastal defences, homes and businesses.
The trust’s coast and marine adviser Phil Dyke said the debate now needed to move from “defend, defend, defend” to one of adaptation.
“The storms have given us a taste of what it is going to be like living with sea level rise and increase storminess in the future,” Mr Dyke said yesterday.
“We are going to need to defend some places, without doubt, but we also need to adapt. Our experience in managing some of the places we are responsible for, is that defending hasn’t worked and we have had to row back and move out of the risk zone.”
The trust’s 2005 report raised the notion of “managed retreat” for the first time. It has since implemented four “coastal adaptation strategies” at Mullion and St Michael’s Mount in West Cornwall.
Mr Dyke said a variety of options were needed, citing a scheme in Happisburgh, corrin East Anglia, where homeowners threatened by erosion were compensated with a proportion of the market value of their property and land on which to build away from danger.
“At the moment, what we have is an coastal adaptation policy which is about defence,” he added.
“Where we don’t choose to defend then there is no other approach.
“What we are arguing is that we need a broad range of policies to help us adapt and what that might mean is a mechanism to enable people to move out of vulnerable areas and that doesn’t current exist.”
The trust’s updated report – which is likely to quote Mullion as a case study – is due to be published in the next few weeks.
Earlier this year, the trust released details of its analysis of future sea level rises and the threat it could pose to its infrastructure and estates.
The top three sites for action were identified as Cotehele, in South East Cornwall, Godrevy to Portreath on the North Cornwall coast, and Penberth in West Cornwall.
They are followed by Greenway, the former holiday home of Agatha Christie on the River Dart, Boscastle, which was severely damaged by flash floods in 2004, and Woolacombe in North Devon.