Shoreline Management Plans

What are Shoreline Management Plans?

Shoreline Management Plans (SMPs) set out a shared strategic approach for managing the coastline from coastal flooding and erosion risks. Their aim is to reduce the risks to people, the developed, historic and natural environments over the next century.

A long-term perspective is fundamental to Shoreline Management Plans so that implications of coastal change can be identified.

In some areas there is a need to continue to defend the coastline from flooding and erosion. In other areas, sections of the coast will be allowed to evolve naturally to adapt to changing environmental conditions.

Development of Shoreline Management Plans

Shoreline Management Plans have been developed by Coastal Groups, whose members include: 

  • Natural Resources Wales
  • Maritime local authorities
  • government bodies
  • other stakeholders with a responsibility or interest in managing the coast

The Plans have been subject to peer review and public consultation. Coastal Groups then agreed the Plans, which were also approved by local council cabinets before they were signed off by the Welsh Government.

Shoreline Management Plans aren’t statutory documents, but the Welsh Government want to see them considered both in local decision-making and strategic planning, such as Local Development Plans and Local Flood Risk Management Strategies produced by local authorities.

At the coast, local authorities are usually the Local Planning Authority, unless the location is within a National Park such as Eryri or Pembrokeshire Coast National Park which then acts as the Local Planning Authority.

Choice of Shoreline Management Plan policy

The choice of Shoreline Management Plan policy for a section of coast is informed by a review of available evidence and an assessment of:

  • coastal processes
  • coastal flood and erosion risks
  • coastal defence condition
  • policy development testing and appraisals
  • environmental impacts informed by Habitat Regulations Assessment, Strategic Environmental Assessment, Water Framework Directive Assessment
  • social factors
  • economic appraisal
  • climate change
  • local factors
  • interactions with neighbouring areas

Managing sections of the coast

Shoreline Management Plans split the coastline into small sections (called policy units) and describe how these sections will be managed over the: 

  • short-term (2005-2025)
  • medium-term (2025-2055)
  • long-term (2055-2105)

There are four approaches that can be applied to each policy unit, for each period of time, including: 

  • Hold the line (HTL) by maintaining or changing the existing standard of protection
  • Advance the line (ATL) by building new defences on the seaward side of the original defences (although none applied in Wales)
  • Managed realignment (MR) which allows the shoreline to move backwards and forwards, with management to control or limit the movement
  • No active intervention (NAI) where there is no investment in coastal defences and natural processes are allowed to continue to create an evolving coastline

View the approach for your area

Use the map below to view the Shoreline Management Plan approach for any coastal area in Wales from 2005 to 2105. Zoom into the area you're interested in and click on the yellow line on the map:

View the full Shoreline Management Plans

There are four Shoreline Management Plans that cover the coastline of Wales, two of which are cross-border with England. You can view the Plan for your area in the links below:

The links above also provide access to:  

  • background information on developing the plan
  • policy statements for each policy unit, outlining details of the policies for each time period
  • supporting assessments
  • action plans for putting the SMP into practice
  • a record of how stakeholders have been involved throughout SMP development

View Shoreline Management Plans in England.

Different approaches over time

In some locations, the approach to shoreline management will change over time, for instance from Hold the line to Managed realignment or No active intervention. 

This might happen because it is unsustainable to defend a section of coast in the medium to longer term.

Where sections of the coast change to No active intervention, they will lose any protection they have at the moment as defences gradually degrade.

Where the change is to Managed realignment, more detailed coastal adaptation planning will be needed.

Implementation of Shoreline Management Plans

The Coastal Groups are responsible for producing and managing the SMPs. Members work together, whether at Coastal Group level, or more locally, to communicate and implement the Plans. This may include the development of coastal adaptation plans where needed.

There will be some flexibility in the short, medium, and long-term timelines above. Decisions about the timings for implementing the policy approach will be based on factors including:

  • how quickly the sea level is changing in an area
  • detailed local studies
  • social and wellbeing factors
  • environmental opportunities 

Coastal Group members and other stakeholders may use trigger levels to identify the appropriate time to transition from one policy approach to another.

Each Shoreline Management Plan has an action plan. This identifies how Coastal Groups and their members will deliver the policy options.

The focus is on immediate actions required but medium to longer term actions are also identified. Some actions may include a wider range of stakeholders, recognising the complexities of interests and management of the coast.

Nature-based solutions for coastal management

Where there is a need to continue to defend the coastline from flooding and erosion, we have choices about how this is achieved.

We can choose the type of defence we have historically opted for, such as seawalls, groynes and breakwaters (sometimes called ‘hard’ or ‘grey’ infrastructure).

Alternatively we can look at using ‘nature-based solutions’ which aim to work with natural processes and improve ecosystem resilience whilst reducing risks for flood and coastal erosion.

More information about nature-based solutions for coastal management

Updating Shoreline Management Plans

Shoreline Management Plans are living documents and will be reviewed and updated where more new information, such as climate change projections, becomes available.

Natural Resources Wales together with the Coastal Groups have recently completed a project to refresh the Shoreline Management Plans. 

The project has reviewed: 

  • how the Plans have been implemented to date
  • what has changed since they were last updated, such as new policy or evidence
  • whether changes present a challenge to delivering the Shoreline Management Plan policies  

The project gives clear guidance to Coastal Groups about the next steps to plan for transition from the short to medium term policy approaches.

This will help to achieve the longer-term plan for a more sustainable shoreline. It also aims to make sure that Shoreline Management Plans stay up-to-date, reliable and visible.

As part of the project, we've produced Supplementary Guidance for Shoreline Management Plans.

This supports the maintenance and delivery of the plans in Wales and complements the current 2006 guidance. The new guidance will focus on making sure key principles are applied consistently across Shoreline Management Plans.

Section 5 of this new guidance introduces sub-policy management approaches, to provide more detail on the specific management approach planned for any stretch of coast over time. We have included this detail on our coastal risk maps accessible via the link above.

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