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Pressures on rivers and coasts

Restricting rivers and coasts may seem a good solution to local erosion or flooding, but the effects are often detrimental.

Rivers and coasts are dynamic environments, continually changing in response to variations in weather, land use and the supply of sediment.

This capacity to change – often unpredictably – is a fascinating feature of rivers and coasts. But it encourages people to try to design schemes to restrict and control this natural dynamism.

Restricting rivers and coasts affects water and sediment flows, which can destroy wildlife habitat and reduce landscape value and diversity. Intervention at one point in a river or coast can have a negative knock-on effect at another point in the dynamic landscape.

Sustainable flood management

Rivers have become more and more cut off from their floodplains as flood banks have been built to protect land used for agriculture and other purposes.

A more sustainable approach is to restore the natural function of floodplains as temporary floodwater storage areas. When done in a planned way and in suitable locations, this helps to reduce the impacts of floods downstream.

Creating room for dynamic rivers in this way could also help to restore natural habitats.

Tackling erosion

In some areas, erosion and retreat of the coastal edge – under constant attack by the sea – must be controlled to prevent the loss of valuable infrastructure.

But hard rock armour or concrete defences will permanently obscure rock exposures and may have adverse knock-on effects along the coast.

Soft defences or rock mounds are a better option. These may reduce wave energy enough to prevent major coastal retreat, yet allow the gentle erosion needed to maintain coastal rock exposure and a natural-looking coastline.

How we can help

Scottish Natural Heritage is working towards the sustainable management of dynamic landscapes and can advise on their management and conservation.

Contact your local Scottish Natural Heritage area office.

Find out more

Coasts: Scotland’s Living Landscapes

Machair: Scotland’s Living Landscapes