Assessing the potential consequences of climate change for England's landscapes: South East Northumberland.
This study considered the vulnerability of the natural environment to climate change in the South East Northumberland Coastal Plain NCA. This area encompasses the low lying plain of the Northumberland coalfield, the coastline, and extensive urban and industrial areas of Newcastle in the south. The area is rich in wildlife, supporting a wide range of important coastal, wetland, woodland and grassland habitats. The vulnerability of the natural environment in the South East Northumberland Coastal Plain NCA was assessed by considering how it is exposed to changes in climatic conditions, how sensitive it is to those changes (including its ability to adapt, which can be influenced by its current condition) and how much scope there is for conservation management to promote adaptation. This assessment of vulnerability is based on the best available scientific knowledge of how climate change might affect the natural environment and discussions with local experts. The assessment considered both landscape assets (biodiversity, heritage, soils and geology) and its ecosystem service functions. The assessment highlighted that coastal habitats, such as sand dunes, cliffs, salt marsh and mudflats, are likely to be particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and erosion. In some places along the coast, there is little opportunity for these habitats to adapt to changing conditions as they become "squeezed" between rising sea levels and hard defences. It is likely that the most significant changes will occur around the southern end of the coastline where there are hard defences. As well as changing the appearance of the coast, a loss of coastal habitats may have an impact on the number and type of bird species the area can support. Loss of saltmarsh and mudflats could also increase the potential for coastal flooding. It is hoped that the findings of this study of climate change vulnerabilities and potential adaptation options will provide a useful starting point for adaptation in the South East Northumberland coastal plain. The actions described in the study are designed to increase the adaptive capacity of the natural environment in the area to the impacts of climate change and ensure that society continues to enjoy the benefits the environment currently provides. While some of the impacts of climate change on the natural environment are uncertain, adaptation action taken now will improve the resilience of the natural environment to change whether this is from climate change or other pressures, and provide a range of other benefits.