“Living Shorelines” to combat sea level rise more inexpensively than walls and bulkheads

dungeness-peninsula-photo-by-simon-careyFrom Scientific American

As sea levels rise along US coasts, it may soon get easier for people and local governments to obtain federal permits to build what are known as “living shorelines,” natural or nature-based structures designed to protect communities and infrastructure from extreme storms and flooding even as they protect habitat. Should we start to look more closely at these ideas in the Channel Islands? There are already some good examples.

In the US, the Army Corps of Engineers is considering a new category to its nationwide permits that would allow speedier approval of living shorelines, which include wetlands with sea and marsh grasses, sand dunes, mangroves, and coral reefs. Currently, it’s much faster for property owners in many parts of the country to get a permit for sea walls, bulkheads and other so-called grey infrastructure than it is to get a permit for construction of nature-based systems. If the corps moves forward with the new category, though, permits to build living shorelines could be issued in as few as 45 days, instead of 215.

The move toward more natural coastline protection comes as federal agencies, state governments, and local and business leaders focus increasingly on the concept of resilience as they plan for how communities will adapt to climate change. The spotlight on dynamic systems is a major shift for agencies like the Army Corps, which in the past paid more attention to engineered solutions. Unlike with engineered solutions, there’s greater uncertainty with living shorelines. Researchers and engineers have less information about how they will respond to sea-level rise, storm surge and other extreme events. They’re learning to be more nimble.


Natural shorelines protect species, but what about homes?

1Other federal agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, support living shorelines in places where they’re warranted. They work best in more sheltered systems with moderate wave energy, like the Chesapeake Bay, river systems, Puget Sound and even the Great Lakes.

A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that about 14% of the US coastline is what researchers described as “armoured.” A 2015 report from NOAA on living shorelines noted that if coastal populations continue to increase, and if so-called “shoreline hardening” continues at the current rate, nearly one-third of the contiguous US coastline could have sea walls or other grey infrastructure by 2100. The agency found evidence that shorelines with intact natural coastal habitats not only see less damage but bounce back more quickly from severe storms.

5“Studies have shown that living shorelines host greater populations of fish and other organisms crucial for shorebirds and for recreation and commercial fisheries”, said Rachel Gittman, a postdoctoral research associate at Northeastern University’s Marine Science Center. Gittman, who spends much of her time in North Carolina, was asked by the Pew Charitable Trusts to analyse the effectiveness of natural shorelines compared to hard infrastructure. The work is part of the foundation’s climate adaptation efforts to improve flood readiness in US communities.

Bulkheads, sea walls and vertical structures with marginal structural complexity don’t provide the same habitat for marine organisms as natural shorelines, Gittman said.

“It’s not the same type of habitat. It’s a difference in the slope of the shoreline. A vertical wall is very different than the slope of the shoreline. We think it has to do with the wave dynamic, so how sediment is transported changes when you put in a wall.” She added “And we also just think it’s a simplification of that shoreline. So you go from a shoreline that might have lots of pools and crevices and rocks … to a wall. Organisms are not finding refuge along that shoreline.”

The biggest drawback to living shorelines so far has been the uncertainty about how well they’ll work, and whether they are truly less expensive than hard infrastructure.

Finding hidden economic savings

st-aubins-bay-jersey-25-9-2016-photo-by-hgyoung-2Some organisations are trying to quantify whether living shorelines cost less to build and can provide the same protection. The Nature Conservancy found a perfect opportunity in Miami-Dade County in South Florida.

There, the county’s aging wastewater plant was under orders to stop dumping waste into the ocean. The Nature Conservancy is studying whether marshes surrounding the low-lying plant can help protect it from storm surge and flooding. The marshes aren’t just protection for the plant’s $3 billion in upgrades—they’re a part of the massive federal Everglades restoration project.

The Nature Conservancy hopes that what it learns about the project will make it easier for other communities weighing similar projects to move forward with natural systems. Wetlands like the ones in Miami-Dade County also have benefits that can’t be captured in traditional cost-benefit analysis. For example, mangroves might be used on either side of a road that frequently gets washed out during high tides. That allows people to get to work and protects infrastructure. Those are more challenging metrics to capture but they are crucial for keeping an economy operational after a storm, and for minimising expensive damage to roads due to sea-level rise.

Jennifer Molloy, green infrastructure coordinator for US Environmental Protection Agency, said that the agency often is criticised for not giving enough weight to the complexities of operating and maintaining living shorelines. But hard structures also have operational and maintenance issues. Both need flexibility with climate change. “They’re not that different,” she said of green systems. “We ought to not see them as so different. We’re going to end up with combinations of both, and they function together.”

4The traditional use of seawalls and bulkheads has slowly been hardening our coastline and destroying our marsh and wetland environments, which in turn damages the wildlife dependent upon them. A sensible and environmentally friendly alternative, the living shoreline, has been burdened by unnecessarily cumbersome scrutiny. The health of shores is integral to our fishing industry, our tourism appeal, and the coastal way of life

Despite the massive push for living shorelines, such natural systems may not be appropriate everywhere. But they do give communities options that might supplement hard infrastructure, Gittman said “I think it would be naive to say you shouldn’t modify your shorelines, because obviously we’ve built along our shores. We have a lot of infrastructure and communities that we need to protect.” “If you’re talking about a really urban area, you’re probably going to still need other structures for flood protection. Maybe there are places where a sea wall is the only option, maybe it’s a major port, so you really have to have a deep channel.”

“What it means is that we need to be more creative in how we stabilise shoreline, and I think we also need to learn a bit more from nature,” she said. “We should be thinking about how to incorporate natural shore protection components. Anywhere where naturally stabilising features can be incorporated—I think that’s what we need to be thinking about.”

Green spaces worth £2.2bn to public health in England

evington-park-leicesterFrom the BBC

Outdoor exercise delivers an estimated £2.2bn of health benefits to adults in England each year, a study suggests.

Scientists calculated that more than eight million people each week took at least 30 minutes of “green exercise”. They hope the results highlight how encouraging more people to use parks will help reverse the trend of rising obesity levels across the UK. The findings have been presented in the journal Preventive Medicine.

“What we look at here is something that can be converted relatively simply into monetary values,” explained lead author Mathew White from the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter.

Dr White told BBC News that since the 1970s there had been studies showing the link between physical activity and health benefits. “There are very clear ideas about how much physical activity needs to be done in order to benefit health. What we have done here is to focus on those people who use the natural environment for enough activity a week (5 x 30 minutes) in order to justify gains in their health,” he added.

“First of all we looked at the total number of people that went to the natural environment in England each year. Then we looked at the total number of people who engage in what we call an active visit (cycling, walking, running etc).

“We then looked at how often they did that, and if they did it enough times to benefit their health which we converted into something called Quality Adjusted Life Years, which could then be converted into monetary estimates.”


The study estimated that it was worth an average of £2.2bn each year. Dr White said that there had been relatively few attempts to place a monetary estimate on the societal benefits from green exercise.

But he cautioned: “Just to make it clear, we are not saying this is the only way. There were a lot of people who achieve the physical activity guidelines who never went to nature, so we are not saying that it is the only way to do it but we are saying that a very large number of people who do achieve the guidelines do use nature.”

Dr White explained that the study only focused on those people who used natural environments to exercise and it did not look at people who used gyms or health centres for physical activities. Explaining the study’s findings, he said the data revealed a “socio-economic gradient”.

“It tends to be people from higher socio-economic groups who were more active in the environment, more so than people from lower socio-economic groups,” he observed.

“But crucially, among the two groups, once they were in the environment they do the same level of activity.

“So we think encouraging people from these lower groups to go to these essentially free environments will mean that once they are there then they will do as much physical activity as higher socio-economic groups. So it can help reduce inequalities in health.”

The team suggested that the findings presented a clear indication of the potential implications of policymakers tackling the upward trend in UK obesity levels through the use and availability of “essentially free-at-the-point-of-access environments”.

Dr White added: “We already know that many people with weight issues do not like going to the gym because they feel socially embarrassed, whereas a walk in the park does not have that stigma.

“We think it really takes the pressure of these groups in particular. The cost to the health service of obesity is just enormous and is growing every year. If we can encourage more people to do these simple activities outdoors we can make significant inroads into that trend.”

Full paper Recreational physical activity in natural environments and implications for health: A population based cross-sectional study in England here

More than one in ten UK species threatened with extinction

dartford-warblerIt’s not too late to save UK nature but we must act now – that is the conclusion from a coalition of more than 50 leading wildlife and research organisations behind the State of Nature 2016 report. Watch infographic here


Following on from the groundbreaking State of Nature report in 2013, leading professionals from 53 wildlife organisations have pooled expertise and knowledge to present the clearest picture to date of the status of our native species across land and sea. The report reveals that over half (56%) of UK species studied have declined since 1970, while more than one in ten (1,199 species) of the nearly 8,000 species assessed in the UK are under threat of disappearing from our shores altogether.

There are many inspiring examples of conservation action that is helping to turn the tide. From pioneering science that has revealed for the first time the reasons why nature is changing in the UK, to conservation work – such as the reintroductions of the pine marten and large blue butterfly (and our very own red-billed chough) and the restoration of areas of our uplands, meadows and coastal habitats. But more is needed to put nature back where it belongs.


lundy-cabbage-flea-beetleAs the UK Government and devolved administrations move forward in the light of the EU Referendum result, there is an opportunity to secure world leading protection for our species and restoration of our nature. Now is the time to make ambitious decisions and significant investment in nature to ensure year-on-year improvement to the health and protection of the UK’s nature and environment for future generations.

The State of Nature 2016 UK report will be launched by Sir David Attenborough and UK conservation and research organisations at the Royal Society in London this morning [Wednesday, September 14], while separate events will be held in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast over the next week.

Sir David Attenborough said: “The natural world is in serious trouble and it needs our help as never before.

dormouse“The rallying call issued after the State of Nature report in 2013 has promoted exciting and innovative conservation projects. Landscapes are being restored, special places defended, struggling species being saved and brought back. But we need to build significantly on this progress if we are to provide a bright future for nature and for people.

“The future of nature is under threat and we must work together; Governments, conservationists, businesses and individuals, to help it. Millions of people in the UK care very passionately about nature and the environment and I believe that we can work together to turn around the fortunes of wildlife.”

In order to reduce the impact we are having on our wildlife, and to help struggling species, we needed to understand what’s causing these declines. Using evidence from the last 50 years, experts have identified that significant and ongoing changes in agricultural practices are having the single biggest impact on nature.

corn-buttercupThe widespread decline of nature in the UK remains a serious problem to this day. For the first time scientists have uncovered how wildlife has fared in recent years. The report reveals that since 2002 more than half (53%) of UK species studied have declined and there is little evidence to suggest that the rate of loss is slowing down.

Mark Eaton, lead author on the report, said: “Never before have we known this much about the state of UK nature and the threats it is facing. Since the 2013, the partnership and many landowners have used this knowledge to underpin some amazing scientific and conservation work. But more is needed to put nature back where it belongs – we must continue to work to help restore our land and sea for wildlife.

freshwater-pearl-mussel“There is a real opportunity for the UK Government and devolved administrations to build on these efforts and deliver the significant investment and ambitious action needed to bring nature back from the brink.

“Of course, this report wouldn’t have been possible without the army of dedicated volunteers who brave all conditions to survey the UK’s wildlife. Knowledge is the most essential tool that a conservationist can have, and without their efforts, our knowledge would be significantly poorer.”

The 2016 report includes a section on UK Crown Dependencies and highlights Birds On The Edge, Jersey Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, Les Minquiers, Guernsey’s Operation Skylark and Track a Gannet.

For a full copy of the State of Nature 2016 report and to find out how you can do your bit to save UK wildlife visit the website here 

Reports for different areas of the UK will be launched on the following days:

UK, England and Scotland reports – 14th Sept

Wales – 21st Sept

Northern Ireland – 26th Sept

All reports will sit on the Centre for Conservation pages on the RSPB website after their launch.


The State of Nature 2016 UK partnership includes:

A Focus on Nature, A Rocha UK, Association of Local Environmental Records Centres, Amphibian & Reptile Conservation, Bat Conservation Trust, Biological Records Centre, Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland, British Bryological Society, British Dragonfly Society, British Lichen Society, British Pteridological Society, British Trust for Ornithology, Buglife, Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Chartered Institute for Ecology and Environmental Management, Conchological Society of Great Britain and Ireland, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Earthwatch Europe, Freshwater Habitats Trusts, Friends of the Earth, Froglife, Fungus Conservation Trust, Guernsey Government, iSpotnature (The Open University), States of Jersey Department of the Environment, Mammal Society, Manx Birdlife, Marine Biological Association, Marine Conservation Society, MARINElife, Marine Ecosystem Research Programme, National Forum for Biological Recording, National Trust, National Biodiversity Network, Natural History Museum, Orca, People’s Trust for Endangered Species, Plantlife, PREDICTS, Rothamsted Research, RSPB, Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science, Shark Trust, Sheffield University, Vincent Wildlife Trust, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, The Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust, World Wildlife Fund, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, Zoological Society of London.



Chough report: August 2016

Alison and Ray Hales from Paradise Park handing over the choughs to the Durrell team. Photo by Lee Durrell.

by Liz Corry

We welcomed six new choughs into Jersey this August, albeit on the very last day of the month. Paradise Park, Cornwall, successfully bred ten chough chicks at their wildlife sanctuary this year and kindly provided us with two males and four females, all approximately four months old.

Once again Lee Durrell and Colin Stephenson generously offered their services to fly over and collect the new recruits. They were joined by keepers Jess Maxwell and Bea Detnon who provided on-board entertainment (more for the pilots than the choughs) on the hour long flight.

Bea Detnon and Jess Maxwell clearly regretting volunteering to go on the import trip. Photo by Jess Maxwell.

After a short delay waiting for a weather front to pass, the crew touched down at Perranporth Airfield around midday where they were greeted by Ali and Ray Hales patiently waiting with six  crated choughs.

Alison Hales (far left), Director of Paradise Park, handing over six choughs to Lee Durrell and team at Perranporth Airfield. Photo by Ray Hales.

There was sadly no time for the team to sample the delights of the Cornish coast, although they did squeeze in a Cornish pasty before heading back for Jersey. Bea and Jess drove the birds to Sorel where they were met by myself and the vet team. Each chough was checked over by the vet and given Jersey leg rings before being released into the aviary.

Durrell vet Alberto Barbon inspecting one of the new arrivals. Photo by Bea Detnon.

Neither photographer or chough were clear as to what this inspection was about. It passed the test whatever it was. Photo by Bea Detnon.

They will be kept locked in the aviary whilst they undergo a quarantine period. During this time we will collect faecal samples to assess their health, target-train them for feeds, and integrate them with some of our own chicks. The latter is important because when it comes to opening the hatches for the first time we want the new birds to follow the flock. Forming ‘friendships’ with the Durrell chicks prior to release should help with this. Friendship might be too emotive. At the very least they should just copy the Durrell chicks. The four foster chicks have been locked in a separate section of the aviary. After one week, to allow for health screening, the two groups will be mixed.

If the release of these new recruits is successful Jersey’s wild chough population will reach 36 individuals including the wild hatched chicks. By which time we will have released forty individuals over the past three years. We anticipated the need to release thirty to fifty individuals over a five year period in order to have enough birds survive and stay around to start breeding. We have now attained this target and have captive-bred pairs successfully nesting in the wild.  It is, therefore, highly likely that 2016 will be the last year of releasing juveniles from Paradise Park.

There is a skew in the sex ratio of the population with only 13 males in the group. We will look to address this next year using chicks bred at Durrell as well as waiting to see the outcome of the wild nests. If they all survive the winter there will potentially be four breeding pairs with another three young pairs attempting to nest.

Update on the July release

We reported last month on the release of six chicks bred at Durrell. They continue to thrive and have shown amazing progress in a relatively short space of time. The two parent-reared chicks continue to follow the adults around occasionally trying their luck  begging at Mauve a breeding female. At roost time they leave the flock and return to sleep in the aviary with the four foster chicks. Sometimes leaving it to the very last minute of sunlight to break off the fun.


We originally had concern over the foster chicks as they preferred to stay close to their human foster mums rather than the choughs. Knowing that it was probably related to confidence and age we persevered and encouraged them to join the flock. Operation chough crèche was a success. If the foster chicks flew over to us we would walk them towards the flock and stay with them, breaking up sheep dung and digging in the soil to encourage them to look for insects.


They started to become a bit too expectant in our provisioning of food demanding to be fed every time they spotted us. Apart from being extremely annoying it meant our post-release monitoring was heavily biased. They do not have radio-transmitters fitted at the moment so all our location fixes for the birds are based on visual ID of leg rings rather than the radio signal. We stopped the early morning feed and went into stealth mode observing the group from the other side of the valley.

After a week or so the foster chicks stopped being clingy when out with the flock. They would still fly over to say hi, then turn back straight away to join the flock rather than land on us. At the aviary feeds they were eating alongside the adults rather than waiting their turn.

We have previously used the analogy of the first day at school when it came to moving chicks into the aviary. Releasing chicks into the wild flock is exactly the same. They have only had four weeks of ‘term’ but already look like they will graduate with flying colours.

Keeping the analogy going the ‘kids broke up for half term’ on 30th August when it came time to lock them in before the new birds arrived. The easiest way to do this was to wait until after sunset when they had gone inside the aviary to roost. Sunset was at 19:55 that evening. Some birds had already gone inside by 19:30. The parent-reared two flew in from the quarry at 19:54. There were a few scuffles over who was sleeping where before settling down around 20:00 and the hatches could be closed.

In the morning I was greeted by a few disgruntled chicks at the aviary. Not before being greeted by a flock of twenty five outside the aviary. Puzzling since there should have been twenty four. A quick scan of the leg rings after several re-counts and it was clear X was not inside with the rest of her siblings. Presumably she roosted in one of the outside boxes. A morning of food bribery, opening and closing doors, and patience resulted in the four foster chicks being locked in to one half of the aviary along with one of the parent-reared chicks. He needed his identifying leg ring replaced after it fell off several days earlier. Once we had caught him up and added the ring he was released outside.

Veterinary concerns this month

There were two notable cases this month although nothing out of the ordinary. The wild chicks are now much more independent and can make it through an aviary feed without begging at their parents. Silence at the aviary was soon interrupted by sneezing. Two of the wild chicks, from separate clutches, have started showing signs of a nematode infection. Last year’s wild chick was the same a few months after fledging. Plans are afoot to catch up and treat these two.

Foster chick X turned up at the aviary one morning with a distinct limp only putting weight on her left foot at rest. The motherly instinct to wrap her up in cotton wool and keep locked away for a few days was over-ruled by common sense. The choughs have a tendency to have aches or pains every now and then. Life on the cliffs and quarry, in-fighting over food, and a penchant for bullying gulls/kestrels/buzzards lends itself to the occasional injury. We did of course pledge to monitor her closely and intervene if there was no improvement. Less than 24 hours later she was back to her usual self and incident free ever since.

Juvenile red-billed chough at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

Questions over X’s physical state changed to concerns over her mental state when she demonstrated the most bizarre, yet endearing, behaviour we have seen to date. Choughs like to cache food to be able to provision in harsher times or prevent others from stealing their prize finds. Quite often we see the choughs take food from the aviary to bury on the grazed land or in the quarry. I’ve watched as a foster chick excavate under the edge of my boot, popped in a rabbit dropping, then covered it up. This month Bea witnessed X walk over to the GPS unit she had left on the ground beside her. X flipped it over with her bill down into a dip in the soil then proceed to bury it. Sabotage or stupidity? Feel free to leave your own thoughts in our comments section.

Chough chick burying the Garmin GPS unit belonging to the tracking team. Photos by Bea Detnon.

For an idea of scale here is what the GPS unit looks like when it isn’t buried in the ground…gps unit

Mystery disappearance

On 14th August, after three weeks of loyally staying around the release site, chick U disappeared. She was absent from the morning aviary feed and still missing by the evening. Dingle and his partner Red were also missing. It was less surprising that these two were missing given their independence. In fact we welcomed it. Maybe they had gone off to explore new territories, pioneers of the Jersey chough population.

Foster-reared chough ‘U’ before her mystery 24 hour disappearance. Photo by Liz Corry.

The fact a third bird was missing, who happens to be the most clingy of all the foster chicks, was very alarming. After several hours of searching and a restless nights sleep staff were relieved to count all thirty choughs at Sorel the next morning. And of course all behaving as if nothing unusual had happened.

And finally…

Trypocopris dung beetle at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry

On a lighter note, we reported last month on how dry conditions had been at Sorel and how that was affecting the wildlife. August was still fairly hot although interspersed with heavy downpours and the odd bout of fog. It was a welcome relief to find dung beetles (Trypocopris spp.), locally known as chough hors d’oeuvres, wandering the cliff paths.

The change in weather fuelled the continued growth of bracken engulfing the cliff paths. Pretty panoramic views from the cliff path benches were still possible providing you stood on the benches. It highlights just how domineering bracken can be in the plant community and how the ground below is smothered. Bracken will start to die back in September to reveal the scenic views Jersey’s coastline has to offer. Only to return in spring if left unmanaged.

View of Bouley Bay (behind the bracken). Photo by Liz Corry

Looking out from Sorel towards Sark and Guernsey (on the left).


Jess and Bea had the ultimate view of Sark…