National Network of Regional Coastal Monitoring Programmes


Credit: Jon French, University College London

Climate change and sea-level rise pose a significant threat to most coasts, including the likelihood of increased coastal erosion and flooding. In the UK, these hazards have been managed from a risk-based perspective over the last few decades, requiring an evaluation of the costs and benefits of different management approaches. This is exemplified in government project appraisal guidance and studies such as the Foresight Future Flood and Erosion Study published in 2004 and subsequent national assessments.

In the last 10 years, a resilience-based perspective towards coastal flooding and erosion has become increasingly prominent in national policy documents. Resilience is a broader concept that incorporates risk, but goes beyond it to consider the ability to anticipate and recover from adverse events that will inevitably occur. Despite its attraction, the concept of resilience remains ill-defined in many policy documents and largely qualitative. This greatly limits the potential the development and application of an overarching resilience-based framework to guide and shape coastal erosion and flood hazard management.

This 12-month project funded by the SPF UK Climate Resilience Programme set out to develop and demonstrate prototype methods to assess realistic pathways for strategic coastal erosion and flood resilience in the light of climate change, and to consider how resilience might be operationalized as a robust evidence-based framework for achieving more sustainable, equitable and societally acceptable adaptive responses to climate change at the coast. The main challenge was to devise a robust framework for quantifying resilience, such that comparative geographical assessments and forward modelling of temporal changes and the effects of specific adaptation pathways become possible.

The CoastalRes methodology was developed using local case studies and the entire coast of England as a case study, and demonstrates the practicality of formalising and quantifying resilience at multiple scales. This includes a pragmatic definition of resilience that encompasses not only the physical and ecological but also the socio-economic dimensions of coastal systems. Scenarios are used to model the impact of external drivers (e.g. climate change, land use, etc.) exploring likely response to selected policy options. Capitalising on the increasingly availability of open-source geospatial datasets, multi-variate measures are mapped over the flood and erosion hazard zone and combined using Multi Criteria Analysis (MCA) model to create spatially and temporally variable resilience indices. Subjective weightings within MCA are used constructively to provide an explicit and transparent representation of diverse stakeholder views.

Key aspects of the project include:

  • Identifying an appropriate definition of resilience.
  • A series of stakeholder workshops, which examined the current status of shoreline management planning, and the status of resilience in these policy processes. This contributed to and helped to assess the utility of the CRM.
  • Assessment of national datasets suitable for examining coastal risk and resilience.
  • Development of a tool (the Coastal Resilience Model (CRM)) to quantitatively measure resilience to coastal erosion and flood hazard.

A pragmatic definition of resilience

The realisation of resilience to coastal erosion and flooding for the English case study. These objectives are maximised or minimised to enhance coastal resilience, and are quantified using indicators and associated data-driven metrics.

Like sustainability, resilience is an elusive concept and its practical application has been hampered by inconsistencies in definition. Here a pragmatic definition adopted by the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) that emphasises “the ability of a system to prepare, resist, recover, and adapt to disturbances in order to achieve successful functioning through time” is used as a basis. The USACE have adapted this to their circumstances and have focused on coastal disaster risk management and recovery, especially the response to hurricanes. In the Coastal Resilience Model, we have adapted this definition to an English context as illustrated in the image.

Relevant papers on coastal resilience

Linkov et al (2014) Changing the resilience paradigm, Nature Climate Change 4, 407–409

Rosati et al (2015) Quantifying coastal system resilience for the US Army Corps of Engineers, Environment Systems and Decisions 35, 196–208

Further resources:

UK Climate Resilience Programme webinar (28/10/2020)
CoastalRes Methodology Report Townend et al (2020)
CoastalRes Technical Report Carpenter and Hill (2020)
Policy brief - Improving the resilience of our coastal communities
Final Workshop presentation
Workshop summary
Townend, B. I. H., et al2021. Operationalising coastal resilience to flood and erosion hazard: A demonstration for England. Science of The Total Environment, 783, 146880.
Townend et al (2020) 'The CoastalRes prototype resilience model'
Brown, S. et al. 2023. Transitions in modes of coastal adaptation: addressing blight, engagement and sustainability, Frontiers in Marine Science, 10.
weADAPT: Improving the resilience of UK coastal communities
Lazarus, E. D. et al 2021. The UK needs an open data portal dedicated to coastal flood and erosion hazard risk and resilience, Anthropocene Coasts 4 (1), 137-146,
NEW Poster - Coastal Resilience Nicholls R J, French J R, Penning-Rowsell E C, Carpenter S, Lazarus E, Aldabet S, Tompkins E L, Thompson C E L, Brown S, Haigh I D, Townend I H, Hill C T, Waldock I, Sadler J
Online public version of CRM (2022)