TaCTICS - Tackling Climate Change-Related Threats to an Important Coastal SPA in Eastern England

LIFE07 NAT/UK/000938

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Contact details:

Project Manager: Nick FOLKARD
Tel: +44176693207
Email: nick.folkard@rspb.org.uk

Project description:


England’s eastern coast is rich in birdlife but under considerable pressure from climate-induced sea-level rise. This leads to ‘coastal squeeze’ where intertidal habitats are prevented from migrating landwards due to the presence of sea walls. Government policy on shoreline management now tends to favour management solutions that respect natural processes and adapt to coastal change. These approaches were demonstrated previously by LIFE99NAT/UK/006081. While the RSPB supports policies that work with nature, allowing natural change along the coast has been shown in some areas to threaten the interests of freshwater habitats lying immediately inland. The RSPB reserve at Titchwell Marsh in north Norfolk is such a case where there is an imminent risk of habitat loss.

Titchwell Marsh is part of the North Norfolk Coast SPA and contains significant areas of freshwater reed bed (17 ha), freshwater marsh (12 ha) and brackish marsh (11 ha), which support such rare species as the bittern (Botaurus stellaris), marsh harrier (Circus aeruginosus) and pied avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta).


Project objectives focused on: protecting freshwater habitats from coastal erosion destruction; and mitigating/compensating for the inevitable loss of important brackish marsh. The project would implement a ‘managed realignment’ scheme at Titchwell Marsh in response to climate change. This intended to: strengthen two seawalls and protect the freshwater habitats for at least the next 50 years; and breach a third, seaward wall with the loss of the brackish marsh. To compensate for the loss of 11 ha of this habitat, and, in particular, to provide breeding sites for avocet, several islands were planned within the freshwater marsh. New habitats were also proposed at the RSPB’s Lincolnshire Washes reserve adjacent to the Wash SPA. The project was considered to act as a good example of using mitigation and compensation in the context of Natura 2000. The RSPB would thus promote the project as a case study for raising awareness about managing the impacts of climate change on coastlines and their wildlife.


The TaCTICS project was completed successfully with new sea walls and embankments constructed at the RSPB's Titchwell March reserve. Such sea defences now protect a SPA freshwater marsh and reedbed from the risk of tidal inundation from the sea.

Managed realignment was used to allow a former brackish marsh to revert to saltmarsh. Results offered compensatory habitat for the loss of breeding sites for avocet in the brackish marsh habitat and there was no loss in breeding numbers (in fact the project saw an increase in breeding success).

Bird monitoring information shows that the sites continue to hold good numbers of the target species. However, until the compensatory habitat adjacent to The Wash SPA has been incorporated into the Natura 2000 network the project will not have met the requirements for mitigation and compensation set out under Article 6(4) of the Habitats Directive. This will be an issue to follow.

Lessons from similar work have shown that sea level rise and climate change are having an impact on the coast and it will not be possible to maintain all current habitats in situ. The background is well explained in the Layman's Report which adds Titchwell Marsh to a series of UK case studies on managed realignment. The long-term economic benefits of the work are outlined in the Final Report. The project is thus an important case study of how the issues of climate change have to be addressed within the Natura 2000 network. An interesting aspect of the project is that it received no objections and this might be partly because it had no impact on residential areas or farmland. However, it will be important, in terms of Government policy, not to see managed realignment projects as only relevant for nature conservation. There are cases in England where management realignment requires the loss of economic farmland.

The project is accepted in the North Norfolk Coast Shoreline Management Plan as managed realignment. Following completion of the works the new Shoreline Management Plan policy at Titchwell will be 'hold the line' and this policy is proposed for the next 100 years (to 2105). The long-term benefit of the work therefore forms part of the strategic approach to shoreline management.

The project is a valuable example for the adaptation of coastal sites in response to climate and coastal change and five-yearly monitoring studies will show how it responds to the changing environment. The project’s demonstration value was recognised during construction and after completion. It is one of a relatively small number (<50) managed realignment projects in the UK. The background to the project and the process of delivery will be useful for similar projects, including the requirement to address Article 6 of the Habitats Directive in terms of the provision of compensatory habitat. However, it can only stand up as a case study for Article 6 once the compensatory habitat is included in the Natura 2000 network.

The scale of construction (the main Parrinder Wall being designed to a high specification), the use of the floating excavator and macerating head for work in the freshwater lagoon, and the development of new reedbed will all be of interest to practitioners. Previously, embankments at such sites tend to be of a very basic construction with no inherent strength: the difference here is that a high specification embankment is being used solely to protect SPA features (not residential areas etc.) and that long timescales are being considered. This can lead to some concern in local communities that 'birds' get a higher level of protection than homes. The Shoreline Management Plan process is designed to address such issues in a strategic manner.

The new embankments will protect the site for at least 50 years and thus help to support new investment in infrastructure and educational activities. There is a good link between the project actions and the local economy with over 75 000 visitors a year helping to sustain an estimated 109 jobs and contributing £4.7 million to the local economy. The tourism industry is of great significance in the region with 13.3% of all Norfolk's jobs being linked to tourism. Titchwell is also one of only a few RSPB reserves which generates a net profit. The works completed through the LIFE project will give confidence in planning over the next 50 years, e.g. a new visitor centre can be justified. LIFE funding is helping make investment possible. Titchwell is also a very easy site to engage with families and children and it can offer an excellent introduction to nature and will be a asset to RSPB for years to come.

Publicity of the project’s results was less than planned and thus the dissemination budget was only partially used.

Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report (see "Read more" section).


Environmental issues addressed:


Habitats - Coastal
Climate change Adaptation - Natural resources and ecosystems


protected area‚  coastal area‚  restoration measure‚  coastal management

Target EU Legislation

  • Nature protection and Biodiversity
  • Directive 79/409 - Conservation of wild birds (02.04.1979)

Target species

 Botaurus stellaris   Circus aeruginosus   Recurvirostra avosetta 

Target Habitat types

  • 02 - Specific (i.e.for technical reasons or specific issue)

Natura 2000 sites

SPA UK9008021 The Wash
SPA UK9009031 North Norfolk Coast
SCI UK0017075 The Wash and North Norfolk Coast
SCI UK0019838 North Norfolk Coast



Coordinator The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
Type of organisation NGO-Foundation
Description The beneficiary is The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). The RSPB is the largest wildlife conservation charity in Europe. It has over one million members and manages more than 200 nature reserves throughout the United Kingdom.
Partners None


Project reference LIFE07 NAT/UK/000938
Duration 01-JAN-2009 to 31-DEC -2012
Total budget 2,009,660.00 €
EU contribution 1,004,830.00 €
Project location South East (UK)(United Kingdom)


Read more:

Leaflet "Titchwell - What is happening next?"
Leaflet "Be thrilled by nature or relax on the beach : Tit ...
Project web site Project's website
Publication: Layman report Layman report
Publication: Technical report Project's Final technical report
Video link "Changes at RSPB Titchwell Marsh" (3')


Project description   Environmental issues   Beneficiaries   Administrative data   Read more   Print   PDF version