Sandbank.

+ Sandscaping uses the sea to offer effective coastal management while unlocking multiple regeneration opportunities in coastal communities. Source: The Crown Estate

Recent storms have focussed attention on coastal management, raising questions about how we should protect our coasts. Should we build ever-stronger defences? Should we abandon coastal cities altogether, as Vincent Lee suggests? I think there is another option – one that involves harnessing the power of nature.

Sandscaping uses natural near shore processes to nourish beaches, creating new land to reduce coastal flooding and erosion. In the Netherlands, 21.5 million cubic metres of sand have been used to create a hook-shaped peninsula off the coast near Ter Hejide. Natural processes will distribute this sand, producing 35 hectares of new beaches and dunes along the coastline.

As well as dissipating wave energy, slowing coastal erosion and supporting coastal ecologies, sandscaping offers an opportunity to enhance the natural coastal environment, create new leisure opportunities and significantly improve the amenity and aesthetic value of coastal towns. This is especially the case where it means unattractive and less sustainable hard coastal defences such as groynes and concrete sea walls can be removed. What’s more, it could be very cost-effective compared to traditional hard engineering defences, as well as extending the recharge period of standard beach replenishment schemes because it does not disrupt vulnerable seabeds. 

Sandscaping schemes enable coastal communities to optimise place-making opportunities, grow niche tourism industries and establish themselves as attractive locations for leisure and recreation opportunities  – thanks to new beaches. The fact that this can be done by working with nature means that the holy grail of combining environmental, social and economic benefits just might be achieved.

Arup’s planners, working in partnership with The Crown Estate and Royal Haskoning DHV, are working together to propose sandscaping for the UK. The partnership believes that this could offer effective coastal management while unlocking multiple regeneration opportunities in our coastal communities.

These regeneration benefits are vital. In the UK, for example, isolated and poorly connected coastal areas and with high seasonal employment are often disproportionately disadvantaged. A government study found that 26 of 37 principal seaside towns in England had greater overall deprivation than the English average – leading to them being branded the ‘Costa Del Dole’.

Sandscaping could offer a way to turn the tide on such trends while using natural processes to protect vulnerable coastlines.