Vulnerability and Adaptation to Extreme Coastal Flooding: an Example from the South Ford Area, Scottish Outer Hebrides

David Muir, Alastair G. Dawson, Alexandre Gagnon, Cathal O'Mahony

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Vulnerability to climate change is a function of both exposure and sensitivity to the impacts of climate change and coping capacity, whether physical or human, to deal with those impacts. The coast is a dynamic environment where physical change is constant. Severe flooding and damage to land, property and coastal infrastructure in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland during January 2005 was caused by a highly destructive storm coupled with tidal surge and the cumulative impact of relative rising sea level. The impacts of the storm highlighted the vulnerability of coastal communities living on low-lying soft coasts and the need for an adaptive response in taking measures to protect them from the harmful effects of future storms. The purpose of this paper is to report on the changing approaches to coastal protection practices in the Outer Hebrides that have resulted from climate change adaptation research. The focus of the paper is on an area of intertidal sands between the islands of Benbecula and South Uist and the consequences of replacing an open span bridge with a rockfill causeway and the sea breaching a barrier island with the result of extensive coastal flooding experienced during the storm. CoastAdapt was a transnational project which aimed to develop adaptation strategies and tools to help people and authorities adopt measures in response to climate and environmental change. Using a participatory approach, a stepwise methodological approach to building local adaptive capacity was developed. In making recommendations for action in reducing the risk from flooding key measures arranged in terms of efficacy and affordability are listed in a hazard management matrix. These measures range from replacing a significant section of causeway with a bridge to inexpensive options such as dune management and improved flood warning. The process is transferable to a variety of coastal localities and situations and especially so given the need to balance the safeguarding of local coastal communities with agreement on cost effective and appropriate measures which address the growing impacts of climate change.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFrom Sea to Shore – Meeting the Challenges of the Sea
PublisherICE Publishing
ISBN (Print)9780727759757
Publication statusPublished - 2015


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