Managing Rising Waters
One of the most significant impacts of climate change is an increase in storms and flooding. But the way we manage the land can help mitigate this risk, too.
If we get it right, the landscape can slow and store floodwaters. Get it wrong, and the rain rushes straight into our homes and businesses, washing away precious, carbon-storing topsoil along with it.
Because of this the RSPB is committed to finding ways to use the landscape to reduce the impact of flooding.
Coastal marshes play a huge role in protecting us from coastal flooding. Saltmarsh can also absorb carbon at a rate of up to 210g of carbon per m2 per year.
“The UK’s estuaries and coasts are incredibly valuable, as places to live, work, relax and play, and for the wealth of wildlife they support,” says Melanie Coath, who leads the RSPB’s nature-based solutions policy work in the UK. “They also support our fisheries and attract millions of visitors. It’s estimated that the value of the services provided by coastal habitats is £48bn.”
At Medmerry in West Sussex the RSPB worked with the Environment Agency as they undertook Europe’s largest-ever managed realignment of the open coast.
Flooding had long posed a serious threat to the nearby town of Selsey, as well as a main road and waste-water treatment works; and in 2008 floods caused over £5m of damage locally.
But since the work was completed in 2013, not only have the defences held back winter storm surges, the new habitats that were created have become a haven for wildlife, attracting green tourism and helping caravan parks extend their season.
The RSPB has also been creating a naturalised coastline at Wallasea Island in Essex, using three million tonnes of earth from the Crossrail project to raise the land and build an enormous wetland with mudflat, saltmarsh, saline lagoons and coastal grassland. It has been designed to provide valuable habitat for wildlife both now and under future higher sea levels.
This not only helps us manage rising sea levels, it also stores huge amounts of carbon and provides a home for wildlife – including a new island for nesting avocets. The mudflats, islands and saltmarsh cover 115 hectares. “You can now see a magical landscape of marshland, lagoons and sea,” says Melanie. “Wallasea is a wildlife-rich, carbon-rich habitat.”
In order to tackle the ecological and climate emergencies, we have to address both in tandem, and we all need to work together to do it. Investing in green projects is not just good for the environment. The COP26 Universities Network examined the findings of a paper in Oxford Review of Economic Policy , plus learnings from the 2008 financial crisis, and found that green projects create more jobs and deliver higher short-term returns per pound spent.
With the right input from governments, industry and lifestyle changes from all of us, we can increase natural habitat, rebuild the economy and help solve the climate crisis at the same time.