Coastal erosion and landfill exposure: Future impacts of climate change – Legal Futures

Lyme Regis seafront looking towards landslips and former landfill, 2019 (by Darren Haddock CC BY-SA 2.0 via
Lyme Regis seafront looking towards landslips and former landfill, 2019 (by Darren Haddock CC BY-SA 2.0 via

The UK’s historic coastline is a ticking pollution time bomb that is being rapidly accelerated by the impacts of climate change and landfill exposure.

Beneath the surface of our glorious national coast lies a rather dirty history that is being brought to the surface by the impacts of coastal erosion.

As an island nation the UK has the largest coastline in Europe of 17,381km and is surrounded by four water bodies (Atlantic ocean, North Sea, Irish Sea and English Channel). For this reason, 28% of the UK’s coastline is vulnerable to coastal erosion as climate change has accelerated rising sea levels and increasingly hazardous weather.

If this wasn’t enough of a concern, there are approximately 20,000 historical landfills in England and 1,215 of these are located in coastal settings within the tidal flood zone (0.5% annual probability of coastal flooding). Of these, 79 are at risk of erosion by 2025 if not defended. These coastal landfills contain a range of waste types from domestic, commercial and industrial waste, to hazardous and liquid sludge.

Historical coastal landfills are associated with environmentally sensitive areas as they were located on cheap land prone to flooding and took waste from local populated areas. In turn, landfills are close to estuaries, industrial centres and major cities, where there is growing concern that coastal erosion will release harmful contaminants into the environment harming people, local habitat and property prices…

Also of Interest:

Coastal Landfills | LANDSS – University of Southampton

There are more than 1200 historic landfills in coastal areas in England which are at risk of flooding and erosion and this is likely to increase in the future as a consequence of sea level rise.  There are no recognised methods to assess the impact of eroding wastes into the marine environment, but the potential hazards arising from such sites may be geological in their timescales.

In less developed coastal areas, shoreline management plans (SMPs) seek to allow natural physical processes such as erosion to progress. However, where a landfill is present, there may be a requirement to defend the shoreline to protect people and the environment from hazards that could be released.  Therefore the presence of landfills can constrain SMPs…


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