Governance and stakeholder perspectives of managed re-alignment: adapting to sea level rise in the Inner Forth estuary, Scotland

Abstract

With climate change, coastal areas are faced with unprecedented sea level rise and flooding, raising questions as to how societies will choose to adapt. One option is to strengthen existing sea walls to maintain current land uses; however, scientists, policy-makers and conservationists increasingly see the benefits of managed realignment, which is a nature-based coastal adaptation that involves the conversion of reclaimed farmland back to wetlands, allowing periodic local flooding in designated areas to reduce the risk of flooding downstream. We interviewed 16 local organisations, landowners and farmers and held workshops with 109 citizens living the Inner Forth estuary in eastern Scotland, to examine how managed realignment is supported by stakeholder attitudes and their engagement. Most of the farmers we interviewed prefer strengthened sea walls, to maintain their livelihoods and agricultural heritage. Citizens and local organisations were mainly supportive of managed realignment, because it provided wildlife and flood regulation benefits. However, we identified several barriers that could present obstacles to implementing managed realignment, for example, uncertainty whether it would support their principles of economic and rational decision-making. Our findings suggest that the local capacity to cope with rising sea levels is limited by lack of engagement with all relevant stakeholder groups, the limited scope of existing stakeholder partnerships and poor short-term funding prospects of landscape partnerships that would facilitate collaboration and discussion. We suggest that including citizens, landowners, farmers and industries would strengthen existing stakeholder deliberation and collaboration, and support the Inner Forth’s transition towards a more sustainable future shoreline.

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Acknowledgements

Thank you to all the people living and working in the Inner Forth for their time and help with the interviews and workshops. Thank you to both David Anderson (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and Neville Makan (Scottish Natural Heritage) who have supported us in the Inner Forth. Thank you to the workshop facilitators Aster De Vries Lentsch, Isobel Jones, Jakob Assmann, Ben Garlick and Rachael Scrimgeour. Thank you also to the workshop transcribers Kathleen Allen and Isabel Hoffman.

Funding

The project was funded by the European Commission FP7 under Grant Agreement FP7-ENV-2012-308393-2 (OPERAs).

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Correspondence to Anja Helena Liski.

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We obtained informed consent from all research participants and adequately handled their confidentiality, in line with the School of Geosciences (University of Edinburgh) Research Ethics Procedure. For the citizen workshops, the research plan was reviewed and approved by the School of Geosciences Ethics Committee, and permission was obtained for photography and filming. Prior to the stakeholder interviews, participants provided consent to how the data would be used.

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Liski, A.H., Ambros, P., Metzger, M.J. et al. Governance and stakeholder perspectives of managed re-alignment: adapting to sea level rise in the Inner Forth estuary, Scotland. Reg Environ Change 19, 2231–2243 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-019-01505-8

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Keywords

  • Managed realignment
  • Climate change adaptation
  • Nature-based solutions
  • Wetland restoration
  • Participatory research
  • Coastal management