Soft engineering methods have become an increasingly popular means of managing the coast in recent years, either on their own or in combination with hard engineering.
Beach recharge occurs when sediment lost from beaches is replaced. The material used is sourced from further along the coast or dredged from the sea. After it has been replenished longshore drift will continue to affect the beach so the process will need to be repeated.
Sand dune stabilisation
This is when sand dunes, that would naturally shift along the shore as a result of wind or wave power, are artificially held in place. Stabilising dunes, using sand fencing or vegetation, increases their effectiveness as a sea defence. It also stops the dunes 'migrating' into developed backshore areas.
However, the mobile nature of dune systems is important for the wildlife they support, so care is needed to minimise our environmental impact on them. On the other hand, in cases where the dune system would otherwise be lost to erosion, stabilising them will help wildlife.
Beach drainage (or 'dewatering')
Pumps are used to remove seawater from beneath the beach. This causes a build up of sand on the beach, which acts as a buffer to the impact of waves and reduces erosion.
Using natural features
This is where artificial defences are moved back or deliberately breached to allow natural features such as salt marshes and mudflats to develop.
Salt marshes and mudflats
Salt marshes and mudflats are 'inter-tidal', being partly or completely submerged at high tide, but exposed at low tide. They help absorb wave energy, which reduces their impact on cliffs or defences behind them. It also reduces the cost of maintaining them.
Over time, under natural conditions, they would migrate inland. However, where hard engineering such as sea walls prevent this, they become submerged by the tide and destroyed. This leaves the sea front more exposed to the full force of the sea. This process is called 'coastal squeeze'.
We can control the migration of mudflats and salt marshes, and their ability to act as a buffer, by carefully setting back artificial defences. This will provide a more sustainable coastline into the future. This technique is usually called 'managed re-alignment'.