Coastal adaptation focuses on managing change, to minimise negative consequences but also has the potential to provide new opportunities. Managing the impacts of climate change, such as reducing risks from more frequent flooding and erosion can be defined as adaptation; where we are adapting to a changing environment.

Many of the suggested adaptation options for those who own or manage assets at risk need to be seen as part of a package of potential ways forward, rather than individual solutions. There is unlikely to be one solution that is satisfactory to all, or suitable in all locations. A flexible approach is required so different needs can be recognised and taken into consideration. 

Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) aim to identify long-term intent of management policies for how we can manage the coast. It is not economically viable, socially desirable or environmentally sustainable to ‘Hold the Line’ everywhere along our soft and erodible coast. Therefore, other alternative options, including taking an adaptive approach, need to be considered. It may be more economically viable and sustainable in the long term to consider these adaptation options now as anticipatory adaptation measures. Adaptation should be valued and resourced as effectively as protecting the coast.

In June 2009 DEFRA funded 15 Pathfinder projects to help communities adapt to a changing coastline. Clifftop enhancements at Happisburgh and improvements at Corton have helped communities to adapt to coastal erosion over the medium term and lead to wider benefits such as improved confidence and increased levels of tourism.

That said, attracting funding for coastal adaptation can be challenging. By their very nature, a project that does not have favourable cost benefit for a traditional defence scheme is unlikely to fit the funding model for an adaptation scheme. Over the past year, Coastal Partnership East, through the Local Government Association Coastal Special Interest Group, the Environment Agency and DEFRA are currently working on a project to help support adaptation and solve problems with delivery where possible. DEFRA recognise that local authorities must be equipped with a policy, a legal mandate, and an understanding of possible funding options to enable them to engage with their communities about adapting to coastal change.