Scotland’s coastline at risk

New mapping tool highlights threat to coastline.

Nearly a fifth of Scotland’s coastline is at risk of erosion, threatening some of the country’s most prized land and infrastructure within the next 30 years.

The potentially devastating effects of climate change and coastal erosion came to light after experts from the Scottish Government, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the University of Glasgow studied coastlines dating back to the 1890s, to plan for the future of Scotland’s coastal landscape.

The ‘Dynamic Coast: Scotland’s National Coastal Change Assessment’ (NCCA) tool uses more than 2,000 maps and one million data points to make its predictions. It identifies past erosion and growth rates, and projects the data forward to show the potential change to Scotland’s coastline.

Speaking at the launch of Dynamic Coast in St Andrews, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said:

“Since the 1970s the rates of coastal erosion has doubled, and that pace will not slow down anytime soon. In fact, it will probably get worse and faster.

“The Dynamic Coast tool is a great new innovation that could help protect existing infrastructure and heritage sites from significant environmental change and damage.

“More than 9,000 buildings, 500 kilometres of road, 60 kilometres of rail track, 300 kilometres of water supply lines and vital airports runways, such as Islay, are protected by natural defences; however some of these already face serious damage and it’s vital that local authorities, transport agencies and other planning bodies investigate how they can work together to manage coastal change before it’s too late. Tools such as this will enable them to do just that.”

Prof Jim Hansom, Principal Researcher from the University of Glasgow, said:

“Since the 1970s the extent of erosion is up 39%, the erosion rate has doubled and accretion extent (growth of sediment deposition) is down 22%. This is what we’d expect with climate change.  That means we are seeing a net loss of our coastline. The clock is ticking and we need to start adapting to avoid unnecessary costs.”

Professor Robert Furness, Chair of SNH’s Scientific Advisory Committee, said:

"Our research shows there is a lot of work to be done to protect Scotland’s coastal infrastructure. Fortunately, about £13bn-worth of property, roads and other infrastructure is already protected by natural features such as beaches and dunes, with another £5bn-worth lying behind engineered defences. So nature itself protects many massively valuable assets. However, we must also be aware that £400m-worth of property, roads and infrastructure lies along coastlines that could be affected by erosion by 2050. Our mission now is to ensure we do all we can to protect these areas.”


The NCCA helps deliver actions in Scotland’s Climate Change Adaptation Programme by identifying the assets at risk if recent erosion rates continue. It is led and managed by the Scottish Government and SNH and the research was carried out by the University of Glasgow. The research is funded by CREW (The Centre for Expertise in Water).


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