Shoreline management plans


A previous study of the coastlines of England and Wales, for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF), established that coastal sediment movements occur within distinct boundaries, or cells, which are rarely coincident with administrative boundaries.  Piecemeal coast protection schemes may not always be compatible with coastline needs elsewhere within the same sediment cell.  Recognising this fact, the operating authorities decided to produce an integrated coastal defence strategy called a Shoreline Management Plan wherein all the conflicting needs and constraints on the coastline are identified and considered.

Our coastline is covered by four Shoreline Management Plans; which are the second generation of plans; all were approved by the Environment Agency by 2010:

What is the shoreline management plan?

A Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) provides a large-scale assessment of the risks associated with coastal evolution and presents a policy framework to address these risks to people and the developed, historic and natural environment in a sustainable manner. In doing so, an SMP is a high-level document that forms an important part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) strategy for flood and coastal defence (Defra, 2001). 

The SMP is a non-statutory, policy document for coastal defence management planning. It takes account of other existing planning initiatives and legislative requirements, and is intended to inform wider strategic planning. It does not set policy for anything other than coastal defence management. 

The SMP promotes management policies for a coastline into the 22nd century, to achieve long-term objectives, while being technically sustainable, environmentally acceptable and economically viable. It is, however, recognised that given the difference between short and long term objectives, changes to management policy in the short term may be unacceptable. Thus the SMP provides a high level, step by step management plan for meeting objectives with appropriate management change i.e. a ‘route map’ for decision makers to move from the present situation towards a more sustainable future.

The policies that comprise this plan have been defined through the development and review of shoreline management objectives, representing both the immediate and longer term requirements of stakeholders, for all aspects of the coastal environment. Together with a thorough understanding of the coastal processes operating on the shoreline, these objectives provide a thorough basis upon which to appraise the benefits and impacts of alternative policies, both locally and plan area wide. In this way, the selection of policy takes equal account of all relevant features in identifying the best sustainable management solutions.

However, it is also important that the Shoreline Management Plan is recognised for what it is, which is the foundation for shoreline management planning.  It is not the definitive solution.  It is based upon the information that is available now and will need to evolve as future studies are undertaken to fill the gaps in existing knowledge. 

The Shoreline Management Plan contains the coastal defence strategy that will be adopted at the present time.  However, it is a ‘live’ working document and must be capable of change to enable new information to be incorporated.  Such change may arise through new planning requirements, a change in environmental factors, or from improved understanding of the natural processes influencing the evolution of the coast. 

For further information please refer to the Environment Agency SMP page.

Objectives of the shoreline management plan

The objectives of the SMP are as follows: 

  • To define, in general terms, the flooding and erosion risks to people and the developed, historic and natural environment within the SMP area over the next century;
  • To identify the preferred policies for managing those risks;
  • To identify the consequences of implementing the preferred policies;
  • To set out procedures for monitoring the effectiveness of the SMP policies;
  • To inform planners, developers and others of the risks identified within the SMP and preferred SMP policies when considering future development of the shoreline and land use changes;
  • To comply with international and national nature conservation legislation and biodiversity obligations;
  • To highlight areas where knowledge gaps exist; and,
  • To provide an action plan to facilitate implementation of the SMP policies and monitor progress.

Strategic coastal defence options

One of the main objectives of the SMP is to assess a range of strategic coastal defence options and determine a preferred approach for each Management Unit. Each option needs to be considered in relation to its impacts, both positive and negative, upon the various factors which are influenced by, or influential upon, the condition of the coastline.

Each strategic coastal defence option has initially been reviewed on the basis of its compatibility with natural processes, the implications for the human environment, natural environmental acceptability, technical soundness and sustainability, economic viability and its wider impacts within each Process Unit.

There are four generic coastal defence options which are identified by MAFF and have been considered for each management unit.

Hold the Line – By maintaining or changing the standard of protection;

Advance the Line – By building new defences on the seaward side of the original defences;

Managed Realignment – By allowing the shoreline to move backwards and forwards with management to control or limit movement;

No Active Intervention – Where there is no investment in coastal defences or operations.

Coastal defence strategy summary

A series of Strategy Summaries have been produced for each of the Process Units. These summarise the principal characteristics for the area together with the main issues influencing any strategic decisions for the defence of that Unit. They include principal reasons for selecting particular defence options and finally a summary of the selected strategic option for each Management Unit, together with the proposed means of implementing that option and the Operating Authority who has responsibility for that length of frontage. See the Coastal Defence Strategies

The future

The Shoreline Management Plan does not finish here, there is still much to do to implement the strategies put forward and to maintain the Shoreline Management Plan. Only by this approach can effective and sustainable coastal defence management be facilitated in the future.


Monitoring of the coastline and the natural processes influencing it is fundamental to future understanding and hence planning the management of the shoreline. Traditionally monitoring has been carried out on an ad hoc basis in many areas without a structured monitoring strategy in place. However, in the past decade the need for monitoring programmes has been recognised and these are gradually being implemented where funding allows. The issue of funding monitoring is an important one. The relatively small costs of undertaking monitoring can be offset in the longer term, allowing better informed decisions on coastal defence to be made and enable more cost effective design of appropriate defence works.

Further studies

An important aspect of the SMP development is the identification of gaps in knowledge and the research studies or data acquisition that should be carried out to enable better informed decision making in the future. Those areas that need to be considered at the present time have been identified within the Shoreline Management Plan.

It will also be necessary to continue to recognise the need to conduct appropriate studies when developing the outline concepts at the design stage to ensure that the local processes are fully understood as well as the broader ones. The monitoring to be undertaken will be of great significance in enabling this.

Stage 3 development

The next phase of the shoreline management planning procedure (stage 3) is the implementation of the strategies presented in the Shoreline Management Plan. Outline guidance on how the preferred generic coastal defence options should be implemented are presented in the Shoreline Management Plan. Stage 3 will take this guidance further, developing outline concepts for the nature of works to be undertaken, producing more detailed cost estimates for them and establishing a programme of both capital and maintenance works.

Whilst this phase will be conducted separately by each authority, continued liaison on the implementation programme will be important. This will avoid operations which may be to the detriment of others in the shorter term, help to optimise the use of resources and increase awareness of the other authorities’ operations. This could lead to overall benefits and result in lower cost defences in the future.

Updating the SMP

As already stated, the Shoreline Management Plan contains the coastal defence strategy that will be implemented at the present time. However, as a ‘live document’ new information must be incorporated and the need to amend the current strategy reviewed accordingly in the future.

Whilst there may be a continuous flow of new information, it would be inappropriate to have a continuous review and change to the strategy. The approach therefore must be one by which the new information can be incorporated and the implications of this upon the present strategy assessed but any changes to the strategy subject to a periodic review at specified intervals. A maximum time span of five years between such reviews has been recommended. Notwithstanding this, the format of this Shoreline Management Plan is such that if circumstances dictate, a review to enable a strategic change in defence policy could be implemented at any time.

Ultimately the responsibility for updating and reviewing the Shoreline Management Plan lies with the authorities’ involved and close co-operation is necessary, with new information being shared.

Finally, there has been consultation throughout the development of this Shoreline Management Plan to develop awareness and elicit response. This consultation should be continued and the Shoreline Management Plan used as a vehicle to inform and facilitate public involvement in coastal defence issues in the future.