Publications on River Restoration in Europe

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Including Ecological Enhancements in the Planning, Design and Construction of Hard Coastal Structures: A process guide

This guidance document discusses the idea of ‘ecological enhancement’ of hard coastal structures and how it can be imbedded in the design and planning process, from conception through to construction. The guidance examines the opportunities, benefits and policy drivers for incorporating ecological enhancements where hard coastal structures are being considered, examines entry points for incorporating these considerations in the planning process, and outlines which stakeholders need to be involved at each stage.


‘Hard’ structures in this guidance refers to those built using materials that are broadly analogous to natural intertidal rocky shore substrata (i.e. rock, stone and concrete), particularly in terms of material properties such as hardness. These can be coastal structures to minimise erosion and/or flood risk, or coastal infrastructure such as harbours and ports. Hard structures are therefore thought to have the greatest potential for ecological enhancement for species characteristic of intertidal rocky shore compared to structures built from softer or more corrosive materials such as timber or metal.

Climate change (sea level rise and increased storminess) means that hard structures will need to be built in some places if current levels of protection to people, property and businesses are to be maintained. The transformation of coastal areas for economic reasons (including for port and harbour activities, and for tourism) also means that artificial structures will continue to be built along our shorelines. This is met with ecological concerns, because artificial structures do not typically provide the same habitat types, or support the same diversity of plants and animals as natural rocky shores. They may, however, provide a greater range of habitats than structures for which ecological enhancement is not considered.

As a result, there is strong legislative pressure to minimise the environmental impacts of structures where they are built and, increasingly, to enhance for ecology wherever possible. There is, however, virtually no existing guidance on how ecological enhancements can be incorporated in coastal planning, or the kinds of enhancement options that have been tested and implemented around the world. This guidance consolidates existing information on ecological enhancement of hard coastal structures, and demonstrates how ecological enhancement can both support, and be a requirement of, the planning process.


While case studies and examples are used throughout, the guidance does not aim to provide detailed designs for specific enhancement options; the limited amount of existing research means that this must be considered on a case-by-case basis. Instead, the guidance provides a background on the principals of ecological enhancement in the intertidal zone, illustrated with examples from on-going research and operational trials. Policy and legislative tools supporting the delivery of ecological enhancements are also discussed. How ecological enhancement can be embedded at each of the key planning stages (pre-planning, planning, detailed design and tendering, construction, and post-construction stages) is outlined, along with some practical suggestions based on previous experience. Importantly, the guidance considers the business case for including ecological enhancements in coastal planning.

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