Some of our most precious golfing treasures are fading away with every passing tide and storm. This special NCG investigation looks at how coastal erosion is changing the links landscape

Golf courses and coastal erosion: The expert view

Jaap Flikweert is flood and coastal management adviser for consultancy firm Royal HaskoningDHV, who helps those with erosion problems worldwide and throughout the UK, including the East Coast

“I’m particularly involved on the East Coast and, certainly there, this is a really long-term process that is a geological response to the ice age 5,000 years ago,” he explains.

“The land is rebounding and there is a relative change of sea level that leads to a long-term process of coastal erosion.

“Many parts of the East Coast were protected after ‘the Great Flood’ of 1953. Big sea walls were built at the time and people thought this would be the solution.

“But those structures are now coming to the end of their lives. The beaches have eroded since, which further undermines them. Through the national shoreline management planning process, questions are now being asked.

“Is it the right thing to keep defending particular areas, when it is actually a long-term process that you can’t stop? Would it be affordable, and could it make the situation even worse for the neighbours?

“Are there smarter ways in the long-term to adapt to coastal change?

“Beaches have dropped by as much as two or three metres in many places because of normal, natural, processes and there is, on sandy coasts, local geomorphological processes that could be influenced by climate change.

“If, for example, storms increase – like those we saw in the spring of 2014, or there is a sequence of storms from the ocean – those changes can also put pressure on coastlines and lead to change.

coastal erosion

“Coasts work in cells – large units in which the coastal processes operate. So what you do in a headland influences what happens elsewhere in a neighbouring bay, or stopping erosion of a local cliff can increase erosion of a neighbouring dune.

“All the local decisions in one place influence the rest of that coastal cell and its different functions – infrastructure use, amenity use, land use, natural habitats – and this can be really complicated.

“People have talked worldwide about integrated coastal zone management. That’s the idea where you take all of those factors, bring them all together and make one encompassing plan for the coast.

“In the UK we are doing well at taking a slightly more pragmatic approach. We have shoreline management plans that have a limited scope.

“They only decide ‘do we protect the coastline here?’ or ‘how do we manage the coastline?’

“The idea is that they are informed, driven by everything and owned by everyone that matters, such as land use planning, infrastructure and habitats.

“It also includes local landowners and local functions like golf courses. And there is an opportunity for the golfing community to get involved and play a more pro-active role.

“With golf courses, they have a direct value to the golfing community, but also to the wider area, in terms of socio-economic value but also ecosystem benefits and landscape value. These interactions have to be, and are, considered in shoreline management planning.

“These interactions may sometimes limit the options for a golf course, but they can also create opportunity: if you can find shared objectives, you can develop joint solutions, for example, where you work with natural processes and get better access to innovative options. This will help get consent and improve quality, and could even generate co-funding.

“In some cases, the question may need to be asked: if you know that this is a long-term and on-going process, is it sustainable to hold the line exactly where it is?

“This has to be balanced with the historic and cultural value of golf courses. Is it the right thing to keep defending it and for how long?

“We work on generation-long adaptation plans for communities – a similar approach could be appropriate for golf courses.”

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