Track 2: DESIGN - PLANNING THE CONSERVATION OF HISTORIC PLACES / Volet 2 : Conception - Planifier la conservation de lieux historiques

Climate Change, Coastal Engineering and the Conservation of Small-Scale Historic Harbours on the Cornish Coast.

Friday, October 13
8:30 AM - 10:00 AM

The aftermath of the severe winter storms which affected the UK in 2014 highlighted the unique vulnerability of inter-tidal heritage to the predicted effects of climate change. Cornwall has one of the most energetic wave climates in the UK, and many historic harbours – some with mediaeval origins - experienced critical levels of damage. For centuries, along parts of this exposed coast, man-made masonry harbours provided the only safe landfall; these sites are now principally valued for their aesthetic qualities, and form the mainstay of the tourism economy. Less obviously, many historic harbour structures have acquired a new function as ‘de-facto’ flood defences for adjacent settlements which in many cases pre-date the harbour itself.

In 2015, the researcher investigated subsequent storm repair strategies at a number of coastal heritage sites; inter-alia, this raised wider questions about the extent to which historic harbour settings are understood by the UK conservation sector, how they are resourced, and how they may be managed sustainably in the future. These issues are now the subject of research at PhD level.
This paper will investigate the impact of sustainable coastal engineering upon the conservation of harbour sites and the challenges and opportunities it creates. Approximately 13.6% of the UK coastline is artificially protected, leaving a legacy of built structures with a future dependency on the maintenance of these defences. With limited public funding, the Government has looked to adaptation as a means of securing more sustainable solutions which deliver the greatest environmental, social and economic benefits. This implies that resources will be focussed on sites with developed population centres; conversely remote sites – regardless of historic significance - are less likely to be protected.

Strategically, in the UK, policy is contained in Shoreline Management Plans that subdivide the coast into a series of relatively self-contained ‘coastal cells’. Projecting coastal change over three epochs within a 100 year period, and with periodic review, SMP’s apply one of four broadly accepted coastal management approaches: ‘advance the line’, ‘hold the line’, ‘managed retreat’ and ‘no further intervention’.

Using short case studies, the presentation will explore how these high-level approaches may shape future harbour conservation, both indirectly and directly. Reference will be made to the National Trusts voluntary adoption of MR at Mullion Cove, analysing how this has influenced understanding of the site, its management, materials selection and repair strategy, and relations with external heritage bodies such as Historic England. Their approach may form a template for other sites where partial or complete loss of heritage assets is inevitable.

The presentation will conclude with a summary of the ‘knowledge gap’ and need for a multi-disciplinary approach.

Learning Objectives:

Hilary J. Wyatt, BA, MA, PG Dip Surv, MSc Sustainable Building Conservation

EPSRC funded PhD Student
Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff University

Hilary Wyatt is an EPSRC-funded PhD candidate at the Welsh School of Architecture, where she is researching the sustainable conservation of marine infrastructure. Professional practice includes conservation and design, and building surveying in the public sector; she has a background in coastal and offshore sailing. In 2016 she was awarded the Gus Astley Award by the Institute of Historic Building Conservation for her MSc dissertation which examined the impact of the 2014 winter storms on small-scale historic harbours in Cornwall. Her future goal is to develop a specialism in this area and contribute practically to the formulation of best-practice guidance.


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Climate Change, Coastal Engineering and the Conservation of Small-Scale Historic Harbours on the Cornish Coast.

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