LIFE on the Edge


LIFE on the Edge is a 4-year LIFE Nature project lead by the RSPB with the National Trust, the aim is to improve the condition of the target coastal sites while also building their long-term resilience and informing future work elsewhere.

The UK has lost more than 15% of its intertidal habitat since 1945, including 8,000 ha of saltmarsh and even more mudflat (Office of National Statistics 2016). In addition, it has lost 46% of its shingle and 18% of its dunes.

Looking forward, RSPB research predicts that the UK will lose at least a further 60 ha of protected intertidal habitats per year to sea-level rise and accelerated erosion, plus additional areas outside designated sites. In a natural setting, such habitats could retreat inland; however, much of the UK coastline is backed by fixed sea walls (ca. 72% in England) and is therefore subject to ‘coastal squeeze’.


The RSPB Sustainable Shores report

The RSPB Sustainable Shores report  (2018) highlights the past losses, poor quality of remaining, and predicted future losses of coastal habitat and recommends a programme of habitat management/creation to address this. The report highlights where losses will be greatest, and where the best opportunities occur to address these problems. This project builds on these recommendations and will bring significant benefits to seven coastal Special Protected Areas (SPAs) building their long-term resilience within the project period, and we will use these as platforms from which to advocate for a wider scale and longer-term programme of habitat creation. This project focuses on England but will be of major demonstration value throughout the UK and NW Europe.

The key breeding species targeted will be Sandwich tern Thalassius sandvicensis, common tern Sterna hirundo, little tern Sternula albifrons and avocet Recurvirostra avosetta – and others that will derive major benefits will include redshank Tringa totanus, oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus, ringed plover Charadrius hiaticula, herring gull Larus argentatus, lesser black-backed gull L. fuscus and Mediterranean gull L. melanocephalus.


The low-lying coastlines support globally important numbers of breeding, migrating and wintering waterbirds. These birds and their habitats are protected within an extensive network of protected areas but are nevertheless under great and growing pressure. This is due partly to natural erosion and deposition, partly to climate change-induced sea-level rise, and partly to developmental and recreational impacts.

  • Increase the area and improve the quality of coastal habitats within the target protected areas.
  • Develop recommendations for wider scale and longer-term coastal habitats management/creation.
  • Strengthen links with practitioners elsewhere in north-west Europe.  

Key activities

The main focus of the project will be on the creation and restoration of habitat within the target Special Protected Areas (SPAs) to benefit birds for which these sites are designated.

Objective 1

We will focus our efforts on selected target protection areas to increase the area of coastal habitats and improve the quality of the habitats themselves.


For this project we have identified nine target protection areas across seven designated SPAs. We have also set out a plan to reduce disturbance to beach nesting birds through partnership work and community engagement.


Read more about the work we are undertaking below.  

Objective 2

We will work with statutory agencies, other NGOs and academics to define needs and opportunities and develop specific recommendations e.g. finding our next ‘Wallaseas’, flagship beneficial use projects, and species-specific opportunities. These will be a key legacy of the project, informing coastal management at the regional level in the post-project period.

Objective 3

We will share knowledge and ideas with colleagues in other north-west European countries facing similar problems ­– e.g. France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. Key themes likely to include the design of habitat creation projects, best practice in predator management, species recovery projects for terns and waders. There are close links between our project and several current European LIFE projects, and we plan to liaise closely with these and build on legacies of recent UK LIFE projects.


The main direct result of the project will be more, and better coastal habitat in place within the target SPAs to benefit breeding, wintering and migratory waterbirds.


  • 2.5 ha of new island habitat will have been created
  • 31.5 ha saline lagoon will have been enhanced
  • 30 ha of intertidal habitat will have been saved or replaced with new habitat
  • The condition of 261 ha of freshwater and grazing marsh will have been improved
  • 1.5 ha shingle and grassland will have been restored, and 4 ha of shingle will have been recharged
  • 10 ha of nesting habitat will have been made safe using fencing
  • Disturbance will have been reduced along key areas of SPA coastline through awareness work, creating conditions for at least two new bird breeding colonies
  • These improvements will lead to increases in the population and/or productivity of target breeding species and will also benefit migrating and wintering species.
  • Recommendations will be produced for longer-term, landscape-scale coastal management in the project areas. This will include some site-specific assessment of opportunities, and the development of plans to inform and facilitate future coastal habitat projects
  • Best practice and case studies will be produced on issues such as island creation and predator management


The project partners successfully applied to the EU LIFE Nature and Biodiversity fund, and throughout the Project's four years will be able to call on funds of €4,035,459, 60% funded by the European Union and 40% from contributions by the partners.


Natura 2000

Further information