NEARLY one-fifth of Scotland’s coastline is at risk of erosion over the next three decades, threatening property and other infrastructure worth £400 million, according to research.

The key finding was drawn from a study on the impact of climate change and coastal erosion over the period up to 2050.

A group of experts from the Scottish Government, University of Glasgow and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), carried out a study on the country’s coastline going back to the 1890s.

Herald View: Coastlines that are crumbling in need of being shored up

The Dynamic Coast project used information drawn from more than 2,000 maps and one million data points to predict what it could look like in the future, based on past erosion and growth rates.

It found the erosion rate had doubled since the 1970s, with the extent of it increasing by 39 per cent. The observed changes since then are consistent with our expectations of climate change, the report said.

The Herald:

Professor Robert Furness, chairman of SNH’s Scientific Advisory Committee, said: “Our research shows there is a lot of work to be done to protect Scotland’s coastal infrastructure.

“Fortunately, about £13 billion worth of property, roads and other infrastructure is already protected by natural features such as beaches and dunes, with another £5bn worth lying behind engineered defences.

“So nature itself protects many massively valuable assets.

“However, we must also be aware that £400 million worth of property, roads and infrastructure lies along coastlines that could be affected by erosion by 2050. Our mission now is to ensure we do all we can to protect these areas.”

Herald View: Coastlines that are crumbling in need of being shored up

Areas which are in danger include the 5,000-year old Skara Brae settlement in Orkney and the Old Course in St Andrews, though there are natural and man-made defences which have helped protect it.

Other areas at risk include Montrose, Islay airport, RAF Tain at Morrich More, the rail line around and the banks of the River Cree.

Prof Jim Hansom, principal researcher from the University of Glasgow, said: “Since the 1970s the extent of erosion is up 39 per cent, the erosion rate has doubled and accretion extent [growth of sediment deposition] is down 22 per cent.

“This is what we’d expect with climate change.

“That means we are seeing a net loss of our coastline. The clock is ticking and we need to start adapting to avoid unnecessary costs.”

The Herald:

Speaking at the launch of Dynamic Coast in St Andrews, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham warned: “Since the 1970s, the rates of coastal erosion have doubled, and that pace will not slow down anytime soon. In fact, it will probably get worse and faster.”

But she said the new tool for predicting coastal erosion “is a great new innovation that could help protect existing infrastructure and heritage sites from significant environmental change and damage”.

Herald View: Coastlines that are crumbling in need of being shored up

Ms Cunningham said: “More than 9,000 buildings, 300 miles of road, 40 miles of rail track, 190 miles of water supply lines and vital airport runways, such as Islay, are protected by natural defences; however some of these already face serious damage and it’s vital that local authorities, transport agencies and other planning bodies investigate how they can work together to manage coastal change before it’s too late.

“Tools such as this will enable them to do just that.”

Dynamic Coast: Scotland’s National Coastal Change Assessment’ (NCCA) helps deliver actions in Scotland’s Climate Change Adaptation Programme by identifying areas at risk if recent erosion rates continue.