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Working together to help turn flood management from grey to green (where possible!)

10 June 2019

Looking ahead to ICE’s 2019 Coastal Management Conference in La Rochelle, Heidi Burgess, Principal Lecturer in Civil Engineering Hydraulics, University of Brighton, discusses the impetus for placing people, nature and the health of our seas at the forefront of future coastal management.

Working together to help turn flood management from grey to green (where possible!)
ICE Coastal Management 2019 debates how we work with nature, rather than against it.

Historically, engineers have often tried to overcome flooding problems by controlling nature.

Along many coastlines, within many estuaries and along many stretches of river, this has meant that there's an ongoing battle to hold back the water, which, with the growing climate emergency, is getting worse.

Because of the perceived success of hard engineered flood defences over the past 150 years, a large proportion of the population have become reliant upon this infrastructure and even complacent about the real risk posed by flooding.

Changing perceptions of coastal management techniques

In the public memory, large coastal flooding disasters, such as 1953 storm surge (UK and Netherlands) and 2010 cyclone Xynthia (France and Spain), are often consigned to history as many in society believe that modern hard engineering techniques should be able to completely prevent flooding and coastal erosion.

Therefore, one of the biggest challenges facing the coastal management sector today is that of changing perceptions, both within the industry and of the wider population.

With the climate change emergency causing increased storminess and raised sea-levels, we need to help people to understand that in order to achieve sustainable and adaptable flood and erosion management solutions, the way forward is to work with nature rather than against it, incorporating nature into our solutions and turning grey to green.

Green solutions

This is the focus of many of the papers being presented at the ICE Coastal Management Conference, which is all about ‘Joining forces to shape our future coasts’.

There are two areas of papers which I'm particularly interested in hearing and discussing. The first are those which demonstrate that public participation is an essential element in making a real difference to project delivery. These papers almost always link into greener solutions.

Adaptation of hard coastal defences

The second area of which I am excited to hear about are where hard defences are being adapted in order to accommodate nature.

As coastal practitioners, I believe that we need to play a larger part in improving the health of our oceans, which can start with the adaptation of our sea defences.

Technical site visit – La Faute Sur Mer

The conference site visit really underpins the inclusive approach to future coastal management and working with nature.

Starting off at the memorial for those who lost their lives in the floods will help focus our minds as to the importance of our work.

The visit will provide a stimulating and unique opportunity for coastal practitioners from many disciplines from all over the world, to come together on site.

It will enable us to discuss and plan how we can learn from the past experiences to work together to provide safer, more sustainable and adaptable solutions to coastal issues which will benefit humans and nature and will be our legacy long into the next century.

  • Heidi Burgess, Principal Lecturer in Civil Engineering Hydraulics, University of Brighton