About Professor Simon Haslett

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Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom
Professor of Physical Geography and Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Wales and the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Coastal flooding in Wales

Over Christmas and New Year the British Isles have been battered by a series of storms that has created scenes of coastal erosion and flooding. The coast of Wales has been no exception and more are expected. In response, the Welsh Minister for Natural Resources Wales, Alun Davies AM, has announced a review of coastal defences around Wales.

It is within this context that I was invited to be interviewed and provide comments this morning on the BBC Radio Wales programme Morning Call with Oliver Hides between 9-10am at the BBC studios in Llandaff, Cardiff. The programme also featured interviews with Alun Davies AM, Conwy Councillor Mike Priestley, weather updates from Behnaz Akhgar, Aberystwyth Councillor Aled Davies, and phone calls from listeners, all fielded by presenter Oliver Hides.

Much damage was reported from along the North Wales coast where they are concerned about being vulnerable to further flooding, such as at high tide this afternoon. The point was well-made that the series of storms has not allowed time to repair the damage before the next storm arrives, increasing the vulnerability of particular coastal sections. Conwy Council can fund some repairs from reserves but will be looking to the Government for additional support. Three strategies were mentioned: holding the line, advancing defences or retreat.

The Minister said he had visited Aberystwyth yesterday and was shocked by the damage he had seen. Indeed, just afterwards, Ceredigion Council announced the evacuation of the Aberystwyth seafront as a precaution ahead the mid-morning high tide. The Minister indicated that a comprehensive approach to coastal protection was required and that the commissioned review of flood defences would be quickly undertaken by Natural Resources Wales, and would identify priorities.

In Aberystwyth, Victorian sea defences were mentioned, suggesting some coastal defences are old and, indeed, damaged defences should not be replaced like-for-like - they should be updated to suit the current and predicted coastal environment.

Several callers supplied observations and comments from around Wales. It was noted that new coastal defences at Borth seemed to have worked well and limited the amount of damage, another noted that gales seemed to be becoming more frequent and fierce, and one caller from Barry observed that whilst some parts of the coast were eroding other parts were advancing through coastal deposition.

I clarified for listeners the complex interaction of factors that influence coastal flooding, such as tides and their cyclicity, sea-level rise and climate change, surges created by onshore winds and low atmospheric pressure, and heavy storm-related precipitation that can back-up rivers leading to localised flooding near estuary-mouths. I also discussed the history of the coast and that a number of communities are living on land borrowed from the sea, such as drained salt marshes, and that over time a number of villages and towns have had to be abandoned, such as during times of climatic change like the Medieval Warm Period. For those who are interested to learn more, many of these topics I discuss further in my books Coastal Systems and the Basics of British Weather.

The radio programme may be listened to again over the next week from the programme page.