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North East set to become ‘climate leader’

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A South Tyneside Council-led project aims to strengthen North Eastern coastlines and communities in the face of flooding, erosion and the impacts of climate change.

South Tyneside Council has secured £6.9m in funding for the region’s Stronger Shores initiative, which will take a new approach to making British coastlines and communities stronger in the face of flooding, erosion and the impacts of climate change.

The project explores how to use the power of nature to restore our ocean’s health while cementing a more sustainable, healthy and prosperous future for coastal communities. Through Stronger Shores’ game-changing potential, the North East is trailblazing a path for the UK to be a world-leader in establishing proven, affordable and long-term solutions to the climate crisis.

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Celine, Ashleigh and Rebecca cleaning oysters at Wild Oysters Tyne _ Wear site.

This project is funded by Defra as part of the £150 million Flood and Coastal Resilience Innovation Programme which is managed by the Environment Agency to develop and test new approaches to help communities become more resilient to the effects of flooding and climate change.

Councillor Ernest Gibson, Lead Member for Transport and Neighbourhoods at South Tyneside Council and Chair of the Local Government Association (LGA) Coastal Special Interest Group (SIG) said: “Our coastline is one of our greatest treasures but, over the years, important natural habitats have been lost. Many areas are threatened by flooding, erosion and storms and climate change will only make this worse. If we do nothing, habitats, man-made coastal defences and communities could all suffer. That’s why we’re proud to have secured this funding for Stronger Shores, which will allow us to turn to the hidden habitats below the waves for an affordable, long-term solution.”

Councillor Gibson continued: “Traditional man-made coastal protection solutions are often expensive to install, maintain and replace. Sand dunes and saltmarshes offer protection but are themselves threatened by rising sea levels and development pressures. However, marine habitats such as seagrass meadows, kelp forests and oyster reefs can act as natural buffers that protect coastlines, enhance community benefits and reduce maintenance costs for existing coastal protection. By investing in protecting these seabed habitats now, we hope to see ongoing benefits for people and planet.”

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Tees Rivers Trust collecting seagrass seeds on Lindisfarne, collecting zostera marina spathes sustainably for planting out in the Tees following processing.

Through Stronger Shores, a network of experts will test new restoration approaches to better understand how these habitats can benefit communities in the North East and beyond through: improving water quality, reducing erosion and structural damage, helping to stabilise shorelines, reducing wave impacts, creating rich wildlife, protecting against pollution, improving fisheries, protecting against climate change, providing community recreation areas, and extending the lifespan of man-made coastal defences.

The project is supported by: Newcastle University, University of Plymouth, Tees Rivers Trust, The North Sea Wildlife Trusts, Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Groundwork North East & Cumbria (GWNEC).

Celine Gamble, Restoration Project Manager, Zoological Society of London added: “This Stronger Shores funding will help us and Groundwork North East and Cumbria build on our previous work on the Wild Oyster Project. By allowing us to scale up, this investment will mean we can increase our habitat restoration efforts and deliver a more extensive, longer-term monitoring programme. As a result, we’ll be able to better understand and quantify the benefits of native oyster reefs for local habitats and communities. Even more exciting is the potential to transform how the UK government approaches coastal protection. Proving the success of affordable, long-term solutions to coastal threats – such as native oyster reefs – could justify policy change and unlock future funding for marine habitat restoration.”

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Newcastle University kelp underwater

Clare Fitzsimmons, Professor of Marine Ecosystems and Governance, from Newcastle University, said: “We are very excited to be working with Stronger Shores in the delivery of ground-breaking, interdisciplinary research to determine the roles of natural and restored kelp, seagrass and oyster beds in protecting our coasts. We will pilot restoration of key habitats testing new techniques to support recovery, while making sure our innovative measurement and monitoring methods can identify the most effective solutions. Then, working with University of Plymouth, we can identify critical links between ecological outcomes and benefits for society, filling significant knowledge gaps and testing a robust framework for future projects to follow.”

Mark Dinning, Head of Conservation, for Durham Wildlife Trust, said: “Connecting people with the marine environment is vitally important is securing its protection and restoration. Durham, Northumberland and Tees Valley Wildlife Trusts are excited to be delivering this element of the Stronger Shores programme. Stronger Shores offers opportunities to boost existing conservation projects by sharing resources, expertise and information with other organisations. Expertise from the North Sea Wildlife Trusts will allow the development of important seagrass restoration work along the North East England coast by testing innovative methodologies for seed planting and monitoring. This is a practical, value-for-money approach that can save money, assets and infrastructure later if we can create a proven framework for others follow – not just in the North-east but across the UK and beyond.”

Simon Wilson, Environment Agency Area Flood and Coastal Risk Manager for the North East, said: “We're excited to be supporting Stronger Shores, which has huge potential to help communities become more resilient to the effects of flooding and climate change. It's one of 25 innovative projects being funded by Defra as part of the £150 million Flood and Coastal Resilience Innovation Programme, which is managed by the Environment Agency. Climate change is happening now and we will see future impact on people, communities, wildlife and the economy. Stronger Shores will be key in finding long-term solutions to protect communities across South Tyneside and the rest of the country. We look forward to using the evidence gathered to inform future management approaches around the coast.”

climate
One of Tees Rivers Trust's 20 oyster hoists installed at Hartlepool Marina. The native oyster nurseries hold a total of 600 native oysters.

Stronger Shores is expected to launch in Spring 2023 and there will be lots of opportunities for members of the public to get involved through volunteering, citizen science and more. In the meantime, South Tyneside Council is keen to hear people’s views on the project. For more information or to share views, send an email.

Photo credit: Celine Gamble / ZSL, Kate Baxter / Tees Rivers Trust, Emma Paterson / Tees Rivers Trust and Pip Moore

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Mark Evans
Scuba Diver's Editorial Director Mark Evans has been in the diving industry for nearly 25 years, and has been diving since he was just 12 years old. nearly 40-odd years later and he is still addicted to the underwater world.
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