Managing coastlines is extremely difficult. They are complex environments which are continuously changing. There are many issues and conflicting interests affecting the coastal zone. A multitude of government and local authorities, agencies and other bodies have responsibilities for, and interests in, the shoreline area. Historically they have tended to operate in isolation from each other despite the decisions in one area frequently having knock-on effects for the interests of others.

Two main divisions of coastal management have developed: that associated with coastal and flood defence and that associated with environmental conservation. A plethora of non-statutory plans have been developed during the 1990’s which focus on one or the other, or attempt to integrate both. Often different scales of plan overlap each other and timescales differ, as do those involved in the preparation of the various plans.

    Estuary Management Plans

    These plans are prepared by a project team which aims to bring together all those with an interest in an estuary to reach a consensus on the sustainable use of that estuary. The triggering factor in their development was the importance of nature conservation in estuaries and their initial development has been funded by DETR and implemented by English Nature, together with local authorities and other interested parties. All the major estuaries in England have been covered.

    Harbour Management Plans

    These plans are similar to estuary management plans in co-ordinating different interests within harbours and seeking to agree and implement management policies to promote sustainable use for conservation, recreation and economic activity.

    Heritage Coast Management Plans

    These plans are prepared by local authorities together with the Countryside Agency and the involvement of interested bodies. Their aim is to guide management to achieve the heritage coast objectives of conservation, recreation, rural economic development and environmental health.

    Local Environment Agency Plans

    The Environment Agency has published 130 general Local Environment Agency Plans (LEAPS) on a catchment basis to integrate the range of its functions and present issues to a more general audience. In respect of the water environment, this includes water quality, flood defence, fisheries, recreation, conservation and navigation.

    The plans consider the various interests of users and develop a long-term vision, highlighting key issues and developing practical solutions. The Agency is reconsidering the role of general LEAPS, in recognition of the new demands of the Water Framework Directive.

    Coastal Habitat Management Plans


    Coastal Habitat Management Plans (CHaMPS) are mechanisms for delivering flood and coastal defence schemes which comply with the requirements of the Habitats Directive. They quantify habitat change, loss and gain, and recommend measures to prevent future losses. These measures include modifying flood and coastal defence options to avoid damage, or identifying the necessary habitat restoration or recreation works to compensate for unavoidable losses.

    The cumulative impact on these features is looked at over a 30-100 year timescale. CHaMPs also include strategic habitat monitoring programmes to map future changes. The actions will be delivered through Shoreline Management Plans flood and coastal defence strategies and schemes.

    The development of CHaMPS has been trialled through seven pilot studies conducted within the Living with the Sea project.


    Defra have reviewed the lessons learnt from these pilots and have produced guidance ‘Coastal Habitat Management Plans: An Interim Guide to Content and Structure’


Integrated Coastal Zone Management

To achieve a better co-ordinated approach to coastline management across Europe, the European Commission organised a demonstration programme on Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM). Between 1996 and 1999, 35 demonstration projects were established, seven in the UK, chosen to represent the range of ecological, economic and social situations found in European coasts.

Integrated Coastal Zone Management is the term used to describe the way in which the diverse activities and interests in the coastal and marine environment are co-ordinated, managed and delivered. The objective is to establish sustainable levels of economic and social activity in coastal areas whilst protecting the coastal environment.

The objective of the demonstration programme was to provide information on the practical implications of sustainable coastal zone management. On 30 May 2002, the European Union adopted a Recommendation on implementing ICZM in Europe. This asks Member States to undertake a national stocktaking of legislation, institutions and stakeholders involved in the management of the coastal zone and, based on this, to develop national strategies to deliver ICZM by spring 2006.

The UK had already made some progress towards these objectives through the Estuaries Initiative established by English Nature in 1992 and the Firths Initiative launched by Scottish Natural Heritage in 1993, both with central government start-up funding. Since then, over 40 estuary and firth partnerships and forums have been established. All these have been established voluntarily, relying on partner financial support and receive no direct government support.

The Estuary and Firth Partnerships and Coastal Forums are broad-based groups focused on ICZM. They may cover relatively small areas or major estuaries and firths. Membership includes voluntary, private and public bodies ranging from port authorities, fisheries associations and coastal-based industry to sporting bodies.

There is no central register of these organisations but website links to many can be found at the Coast Guide website

A map of and links to English Coastal/Estuary Partnerships, Management Groups and Forums can be found on the Defra website:

Links to the regional coastal forums within Scotland can be found at the following website:

Information on the principal government departments with a responsibility for coastal areas can be found through the following websites:

In 2003, Defra and the devolved administrations joined together to commission the ICZM stocktaking requested by the EU. The project conducted a detailed analysis of how different organisations interact with each other at the coast by:

  • describing the environmental, social and economic characteristics and natural resources of the UK’s coast
  • identifying the different laws, agencies and other stakeholders that influence the planning and management of activities on the coast
  • analysing how these bodies integrate with each other and identifying any gaps, overlaps or opportunities.

The results of this review can be found in: ‘ICZM in the UK: a Stocktake’

Other publications of relevance are:

Review of Marine Nature Conservation’ July 2004

Safeguarding Our Seas: A Strategy for the Conservation and Sustainable Development of our Marine Environment - The Marine Stewardship Report’ May 2002,

The principles of ICZM are integrated into the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009.

The European Commission launched on 12 March 2013 a new joint initiative on integrated coastal management and maritime spatial planning.

The proposal, which takes the form of a draft Directive, aims to establish a framework for maritime spatial planning and integrated coastal management in EU Member States with a view to promote the sustainable growth of maritime and coastal activities and the sustainable use of coastal and marine resources.


Coastal Defence

Defra has policy responsibility for flood and coastal defence in England and administers the legislation which enables such works to be carried out. The National Assembly for Wales has similar responsibility in Wales, the Scottish Government in Scotland and the Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland. The aim of the flood and coastal defence programme is to reduce risks to people and to the developed and natural environment from flooding and coastal erosion.

This is delivered through provision of financial support to flood and coastal defence operating authorities, including local authorities, the Environment Agency, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, and Internal Drainage Boards. It also gives publishing advice and guidance to the operating authorities and provides funding research.

    Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs)

    In 1993 a coastal defence strategy for England and Wales was jointly produced by the then Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (now Defra) and the Welsh Office: ‘Strategy for Flood and Coastal Defence with a new Strategy for Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management’. This encouraged coastal managers and decision makers to work together in coastal groups to develop Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs). The aim of these was to provide large-scale assessments of the risks associated with coastal processes and to present a policy framework to reduce these risks to people and the environment. Risks may be reduced by encouraging the provision of adequate and cost-effective flood warning systems. This can be achieved with the provision of adequate, (technically, environmentally and economically) sound and sustainable flood and coastal defence measures and by discouraging inappropriate development in areas at risk from flooding or coastal erosion. A total of 49 SMPs were prepared.

    The development of the first generation of SMPs required the formation of voluntary coastal defence groups. These coastal groups are made up of maritime district authorities, i.e. those in a coastal location, and other bodies with coastal defence responsibilities. Examples of the activities of these coastal groups can be found at the following websites:


    2001 saw the revision of the publication ‘Guide for Coastal Defence Authorities’. That guidance concluded that the first generation SMPs were excellent high-level strategic documents but that further research was needed into how the coast would evolve. Defra's updated 2006 guidance recommends that options should be appraised over a 100-year horizon, rather than 50 years as previously, offering a really sustainable "vision" for the coast. This latest updated guidance aims to help coastal groups review first generation SMPs to produce SMP2s. It is the first specific policy guidance document Defra has released under the new Making space for water strategy. Defra's guidance consists of two volumes and a CD of appendices.

    The development of second generation SMPs commenced in 2002, supported by a coastal process and geomorphological study Futurecoast, the main objective of which was to improve understanding of coastal processes and predict likely coastal evolution over the next 100 years.,_UK

    The key conclusions from the project are presented in a series of statements known as Shoreline Behaviour Statements. These statements describe both the current understanding of coastal behaviour and the predictions of future coastal evolution in both large scale and local scale. This information has also been mapped. The study output is specifically targeted at the Coastal Groups.

    The aim has been to promote a strategic approach to flood and coastal defence works along the coastline based on a detailed understanding of natural processes, planning issues, current and future land use, and environmental considerations.

    Although non-statutory, SMPs have direct inter-relationships with Estuary Management Plans and Local Environment Agency Plans and are intended to be used to provide information to support the preparation of Development Plan policies and assist Local Planning Authorities in determining planning applications in the coastal zone.

    The second generation of Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs)

    The second generation of Shoreline Management Plans cover the entire 6000 kilometres of coast in England and Wales.


    Find out about the SMP in your area and who is leading in its development.

Coastal Groups and Forums

An extensive community of voluntary coastal groups have developed to deliver the plans requested by central government. These go under various titles, most commonly coastal forum, estuary forum or coastal group. The activities of a small selection are described below.

    The Scottish Coastal Forum

    The Scottish Coastal Forum was formed in 1996 to bring together representatives of bodies with a major interest in, or responsibility for, coastal issues in order to encourage debate on coastal issues at national level, and to seek opportunities for better co-ordination of national frameworks and policies.

    ‘A Strategy for Scotland's Coast and Inshore Waters’ (2004) document sets out a long-term national strategy to sustainably manage Scotland's coast and inshore waters. The Strategy has been produced through a series of national events in partnership between the members of SCF, who involved key organisations and draw together the main issues and opportunities in the document. The document can be found at the link below:

    Links to the regional coastal forums within Scotland can be found at the following website.

    Humber Management Scheme


    The Humber is one of the North Sea’s principal estuaries. It drains about 20% of the land area of England and handles 14% of the UK’s international trade. Due to its position within the North Sea, the tidal range in the Humber is more than 6 metres in places, which classifies it as a macro-tidal estuary.

    It is also outstanding for wildlife habitats and has been designated as a ‘wetland of international importance’ under the Ramsar Convention (See glossary). The Humber Management Scheme is a plan by which to comply with Habitat Regulations 1994, which implements the EU Birds Directive and Habitats Directive in the UK.

    It was developed through the collaboration of 36 authorities which have a statutory role in the management of the Humber Estuary and involved the specially formed Humber Advisory Group which consists of and liaises with a wide range of interest groups.

    The Humber Management Scheme provides a coordinated approach for the management of the Humber Estuary European Marine Site (EMS).  It is now delivered through the Humber Nature Partnership, one of 48 Local Nature Partnerships around England. The establishment of Local Nature Partnerships has come about as a result of commitments made by Government in the Natural Environment White Paper 2011.

    Industry Nature Conservation Association (INCA)


    INCA was formed in 1988 in Teesside when the Nature Conservancy Council (now reorganised as English Nature) and ICI plc laid the foundations for an independent and neutral organisation to address the challenge and opportunities of nature conservation in the industrial environments of Teesside. A network of Industry and Nature Conservation Associations was envisaged across England but they have been slow to develop and it was not until 2000 that the second one was formed.

    The Humber INCA was formed when it became apparent that the estuary was going to be designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) (see glossary). Both the Teesside and Humber INCA are forums for industry, regulators, planners and conservation organisations to be able to build consensus on the integration of business development and nature conservation in order to benefit the region’s economy, community and environment. It aims to develop, implement and demonstrate practical ways of integrating nature conservation into commercial operations.


    At the 2013 Humber Estuary Conference the Humber INCA merged with the Humber Management Scheme and is now also delivered through the Humber Nature Partnership (see above).



    Thames Estuary Partnership (TEP)


    The TEP provides a neutral forum for local authorities, national agencies, industry, voluntary bodies and local communities to work together for the good of the Thames Estuary. The Partnership operates as a charity seeking to further the interests of local communities, local economy and the environment through co-ordinating a programme of projects, facilitating new projects and forums for joint working and hosting regular events and workshops.



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