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Evaluating Social Capital Effects on PoLicy Adaptation to Climate change in Coastal Zones of England

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Public opinion helps coastal management

Europe's coastal areas are under threat from sea-level rise, erosion and flooding. An EU-funded initiative investigated local attitudes to strategies designed to mitigate these effects in order to improve policy outcomes.

Climate Change and Environment

The aim of the ESCALATE project was to examine public perceptions of coastal management scenarios that seek to mitigate the effects of climate change. This was achieved by employing questionnaires assessing the social costs and benefits of coastal management strategies in two study areas. Romney Marsh, the first study site, is a sparsely populated wetland found on the south-east coast of England. The North Norfolk study area is situated on the country's east coast. ESCALATE also assessed the influence of local social capital in the two areas on individual and community perceptions of the mitigation strategies. In addition, the project also determined how local social capital can be best applied in current policymaking frameworks that shape mitigation and adaptation strategies for the coast. Results confirmed that certain aspects of social capital, such as trust and social cohesion within coastal communities, play a significant role in influencing key coastal management issues. Major challenges facing local communities and policymakers in rapidly eroding English coastal areas were also highlighted. Residents of Romney Marsh showed a marked preference for keeping current sea defences, clearly influenced by their desire to protect their property and land. Respondents expressed high levels of trust in the United Kingdom's Environment Agency due to ongoing beach replenishment and coastal defence repair work it is conducting around the Marsh. However, the conclusion was that local authorities and the Environment Agency should improve inclusionary processes. This will enable local knowledge to be better incorporated into future policy decisions regarding coastal management. The North Norfolk study revealed low levels of public awareness for the current Shoreline Management Plan (SMP). Main awareness of the SMP was through the Environment Agency. A significant weakness was therefore identified in the lack of engagement between central government organisations and local communities. This lack of engagement included a lack of networking that might facilitate the two-way flow of information concerning information and opinions on coastal issues. Results also indicated a loss of trust in the current national coastal management framework and a perceived lack of responsiveness by central government to local needs. ESCALATE therefore showed the importance of giving a voice to local communities, by improving public participation in policy decision making in coastal management strategy.

Keywords

Coastal management, climate change, Romney Marsh, North Norfolk, social capital, social cohesion, public awareness, shoreline management, policymaking

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