Demonstrating adaptation to climate change, specifically the ecological impact of coastal squeeze on intertidal biodiversity, by creating VERTICAL zonation on seawalls!

Natural Enterprise is an environmental non-profit organization based on the Isle of Wight, a part of the Island 2000 Trust. It has a particular interest in combining the themes of environment, community and arts in exciting collaborative projects. ‘Shelving the Coast’ is just such a one!  Taking its experience in climate policy and practice (having written the Climate Change Adaptation Strategy for the Isle of Wight), Natural Enterprise has come up with an experimental project to test an idea:

Is it possible to tackle the challenge of coastal squeeze on intertidal habitats by creating a vertical zonation on sea walls to replace the horizontal spread of plants and animals that would once have spread out across the undefended shoreline? Coastal squeeze is a real issue for maritime wildlife trapped between rising sea levels and hard sea defences – there is just nowhere to go… but UP! And that is just what the project aims to investigate. Might it be possible to create artificial shelves at critical heights in the tidal regime, to catch the right sediment and create stable ecological communities that can only exist given a particular pattern of inundation and exposure?

Snakelocks Anemone – one of the species expected to colonise the Coastal ShelvesSnakelocks Anemone – one of the species expected to colonise the Coastal ShelvesNatural Enterprise will be working with award-winning environmental artists Eccleston George who have already successfully trialled artificial stonework under marine conditions. The Coastal Shelves themselves will be designed to incorporate interpretive cues and stories and the decoration and shape of the outer structure will grow from workshops with local schools. The design and purpose of the Coastal Shelves and the process of construction will become part of future events and outreach. The project team will connect with local schools from the outset so that curriculum links can be established with teachers at an early stage and visits to the site planned and programmed into the term timetable.

The plan is to work on designs and prototypes over the winter 2012/13 and have the first set of shelves fitted along the Solent coast of the Island (most probably in Yarmouth) by March 2013. This will see them put in place in time for the peak reproductive period in the intertidal calendar, spring and early summer.

The shelves will be monitored carefully throughout the rest of the 2013 to understand how they respond to the tidal forces and how the wildlife around them chooses to colonize. This work will be reported back to the Isle of Wight Biodiversity Action Partnership and, working closely with the IOW Estuaries Project and the IOW Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty team, the designs will be tweaked and refined and new locations prepared to roll out Shelving the Coast in 2014 on a grander scale.

Of course this all depends on whether the project works! But whatever the results, it will be a fascinating adventure into the realm of artificial marine habitats from which we can only learn more.




The Shelving the Coast project is a simple idea in answer to a complex question: how could we improve the biodiversity of defended coasts and reshape natural communities damaged by coastal squeeze?

The response has been to design, prototype and test a modular unit that can be retrofitted onto almost any seawall or sea defence. These ‘shelves’ can be deployed in groups set at the same level or, as in the case of the Bouldnor pilot, as a staggered array to mimic different zones of seashore life.

Vertipool being moved into placeVertipool being moved into placeAPEUK was the first and most essential funder to take an interest in the idea; without them it could never have become a reality. The step from interesting concept to realized prototype can seem impossibly huge without some support and we were very lucky to find APEUK who gave us exactly the help we needed to get started.

The Bouldnor scheme took shape over the course of 2013 and as it did a local partnership grew between Island 2000 Trust, Eccleston George and the Isle of Wight Council with the Environment Agency and the Solent Forum also joining in.

At the heart of the project was the extraordinary skill and imagination of Public Artists Eccleston George and their leader Nigel George. Nigel was able to take the idea of STC and visualize it, see the mechanics that would be necessary to create and sustain such a structure in the often brutal environment of the intertidal. The model that Nigel developed as the basic unit of STC was the Vertipool – a fluted, keeled design incorporating a sculpted basin for the retention of water between tides.

A great deal of time and effort went into the prototyping of the Vertipool. The dimensions and natural sculpting of limestone rockpools on the Island’s Solent coast were carefully studied; the differences between rock formations that encourage seaweed establishment and those that don’t were noted, and the role of in-pool debris was considered. All of this fieldwork helped to create the first pool.

But as important as the Vertipool itself was its manner of fixing to the seawall chosen for the trial deployment. Eccleston George had to think through the range of strains and stresses that would inevitably play on a structure in such a dynamic environment. Not only the impact of waves and wash but the shingle and stone driven against the seawall by the tide would be significant constraints on durability and therefore success. The contact between the pool and the seawall too would prove critical – preventing rocking and loosening whilst ensuring sufficient ‘give’.

The amazing thing is that those first designs have proven to be perfect! The first pool went in at Bouldnor, near Yarmouth on the Island’s north-west coast, in the early summer of 2013 and by the autumn all five were in place, staggered across the seawall between the beach level and the upper splash-zone. 6 months on and after some of the highest tides and roughest seas the Solent has ever seen, they are all still intact and working beautifully!

Vertipool fixed and showing species colonisationVertipool fixed and showing species colonisationThe purpose of the pool units was to attract and retain new and varied intertidal wildlife to the sterile surfaces of a concrete seawall. Within weeks of the first Vertipool being installed there was new life there. Algal growth on the outer skin of the unit began to show, marine molluscs appeared to graze upon it and larger organisms sought out the pool itself, creatures such as shore crabs and shannies (a rockpool fish).

The prime objective of the STC project may have been to help restore damaged coastal habitats, but in doing so we were determined to ensure that the project engaged with the public and most especially with the local community. Eccleston George were able to work with Yarmouth Primary School through the CCATCH programme (Coastal Communities Adapting To Change) funded by the Solent Forum and to use STC to prompt important discussion of the real and immediate effects of climate change and sea-level rise.

We are now seeing a bloom of biodiversity across the array of 5 Vertipools and a local augmentation in species richness, but this could be just the beginning. Monitoring will continue through 2014 looking for the signs that each pool, set at a different height, is developing a different community. Eccleston George are already working on the next generation of Vertipools ready for other locations and other constrained coastal environments around the Island.

Thank you APEUK.


Hear more from APE and Rhythms Del Mundo