Gravel beaches

Gravel, or shingle, beaches are made from sediments coarser than 2 mm and are very common in England and Wales. They extend along more than 1,000 km of its coastline and protect low-lying regions from flooding, and coastal cliffs from undercutting during storms. Collapse of these beaches can result in loss of habitat or damage to infrastructure such as property. The importance of healthy gravel coasts to society is therefore great, and coastal engineering structures (for instance seawalls and groins) and management techniques (recharge, recycling and reshaping) are extensively used at significant cost, to maintain and enhance their protective ability.

Storm impact

Under storm conditions, the combination of waves and tides may lead to elevated water levels which can cause overtopping and flooding behind the gravel barrier. Regular breaching and extensive storm damage has occurred at many gravel barrier sites in the UK, and this is likely to increase as a result of sea-level rise and enhanced storminess due to climate change. Currently, limited guidance is available to beach managers to predict the response of gravel barriers and beaches to storms. Specifically, we are unable to predict under what conditions a gravel barrier will withstand a certain storm event, or whether the barrier will be overwashed, or even breached. Similarly, we have no means of evaluating the effect of certain management interventions (seawall construction, beach nourishment, profile reshaping) on gravel barrier stability.

NUPSIG project

To improve our understanding of the processes that lead to coastal flooding, Plymouth University is leading a three-year research project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), in collaboration with the Channel Coastal Observatory, HR Wallingford and the Environment Agency. The NUPSIG project will generate new understanding of how gravel beaches are affected by storms, and develop tools to aid coastal managers protect the coast of the United Kingdom.


Channel Coastal Observatory HR Wallingford Environment Agency


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