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Improving UK and International Coastal Management



Researchers in marine and coastal environments (a subgroup termed MACE within the School) at Cardiff have significantly influenced professional practices at UK and international level. Their research includes areas of worldwide environmental and ecological importance such as the Severn Estuary. The impacts include:

  • developing tools to engage communities and inform practitioners in managing coastal environments, and
  • developing performance indicators to drive forward environmental standards in European ports

Their research has also informed policy development and implementation including:

  • developing coastal management guidance at regional, UK, and EU level, and
  • influencing the work of major NGOs, such as the World Wildlife Fund.


The issues
MACE has addressed issues effecting coastal management identified by the 1992 House of Commons Environment Select Committee, including the uncoordinated and poorly informed decision-making of organisations with coastal responsibilities. MACE has identified characteristics of successful coastal management practice and translated these into measurable criteria for practical application. In particular, research has used these criteria to evaluate internationally recognised indicators of coastal management, related practical tools, and performance measures.

The research environment
MACE, working with practitioners, has tested and developed models and procedures, including through the ‘living laboratory’ of the Severn Estuary Partnership (SEP), which it has hosted for over 15 years.  Related research has been developed through postgraduate research projects, government funded studies and pan-European collaborations. At European level, MACE has led work packages within COREPOINT (Coastal Resource Policy Integration), IMCORE (Innovative Management for Europe's Changing Coastal Resource) and ECOPORTS; (Dr Ballinger, Senior Lecturer; Dr Smith, Reader; Dr Wooldridge, Senior Lecturer; 2002–2012).

Research on successful coastal management practice analysed 35 case studies from around the world [1], prior to detailed scrutiny of selected local case study sites using various research techniques, including in-depth interviews and focus groups with academics, practitioners and policy makers ([2]; [3]). The subsequent evaluation of European principles analysed nine contrasting case studies across North West Europe (including SEP) using similar research techniques with policy makers and practitioners [4]. The assessment of other performance measures has generally involved an iterative process with researchers working alongside practitioners and policy makers to devise, evaluate and fine-tune measures [5].  In the case of ports, this involved the filtering of 125 environmental performance indicators against specified criteria, alongside the analysis of port performance indicators from 58 European port authorities [6].

MACE identified nine factors essential for successful coastal management [1], challenging top-down traditional approaches, including a need for comprehensiveness in coastal programmes with full consideration of marine and terrestrial inter-relationships. Subsequent analysis of coastal partnerships demonstrated the characteristics of factors in detail and revealed benefits and limitations of the emerging partnership approach [2]. These included benefits for science-policy integration [3], and external constraints, notably limited local resourcing and weak national policy.

The evaluation of the European Commission’s coastal management principles indicated that modifications were required to principles as well as the overall approach to principle adherence [4].  This demonstrated a need for greater clarity and precision in describing principles, notably the ‘adaptive management’ principle, and highlighted the need for a mechanism to determine the appropriate balance between principles and their adoption at local levels. 

This research has informed further studies developing and evaluating specific information-sharing and communication technologies for professionals. These include Local Information Systems [5], the IMCORE exploratory scenario development tool and the European Port Environmental Review System, the standard approach to Port Environmental Management Systems [6].


Influencing UK and International professional practice
MACE is integral to the Severn Estuary Partnership (SEP), providing the Partnership with a framework and a range of practical tools and outputs for sustainable coastal management.  These include a Reporting System and Climate Change Scenarios. These have benefited coastal management through ‘up-to-date and reliable synthesis of science relevant for policy on climate change impacts...but also ... networks/linkages to other similar sites and best practice …as well as assisting local authority officers and other stakeholders in using active research techniques (such as scenario development) to develop more sustainable/informed policy outputs in using this framework and tools’. Evidence submitted during parliamentary scrutiny of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 recognised and cited SEP good practice.

The coastal partnership model exemplified by SEP has informed European approaches , including in Ireland and Germany (Elbe).  In Ireland, MACE's SEP model is recognised as ‘instrumental in informing the Cork Harbour stakeholder engagement process’ and the development of strategies for ICZM, a Framework for Climate Adaptation and a Harbour Management Focus Group as well as the Irish Government’s engagement in ICZM. 

The tools developed by MACE have also influenced professional practice across 9 areas of North Western Europe, from Aberdeen to Belgium. For example, the Local Information System guidelines, and the IMCORE scenario building methodologies have provided coastal managers and planners with a framework for the development of coastal climate change adaptation strategies. The Flemish Government and the Maritime Institute at Ghent used the latter to engage communities of interest to identify climate change issues and responses, helping develop the adaptation measures incorporated in the Belgian Coastal Adaptation Strategy. The scenario building methodology has been highlighted as best practice by the European SIC-Adapt Cluster Project, a Strategic Initiative Cluster of the INTERREG IV B North-West Europe Programme.

MACE also led the environmental strand of the EU ECOPORTS Project (2002–2005) developing the Port Environmental Review System, the only port sector-specific environmental management standard in Europe. MACE produced the 12 key environmental performance indicators for ports relating to, for example, waste production and disposal, which underpin this System. The System benefits port authorities and national port associations, providing a clear and consistent framework to develop and implement environmental policy statements to monitor port performance, and a set of tools, such as the Self Diagnosis Method, to ensure compliance with international environmental management standards. This, in turn, provides assurance on environmental compliance for regulatory bodies and the European Commission. This System is recommended in the European Sea Ports Organisation Code of Practice and is independently audited and certified by Lloyd’s Register.  Currently, 64 ports (representing over 20 countries in Europe and the Mediterranean from the ports of Cork in Ireland to Aqaba in Jordan) use these tools.

Impact on legislation, policy and implementation
The policies and advocacy activities of major NGOs, including the World Wildlife Fund, have been informed by MACE.  According to WWF-UK, MACE “helped shape the development of WWF policy and informed our advocacy activities at a Welsh and UK level in key areas including marine governance, cross-border planning and Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM)...where we have enjoyed considerable success in influencing development and implementation of marine policy and legislation”.  Another body, the Countryside Council for Wales, provided MACE-based advice on issues including marine spatial planning and ICZM to Government, stating that Cardiff ‘stimulated policy debate, particularly within the context of the development of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009...[and] has been fundamental to the way that coastal partnerships function and deliver integration’.

The UK Government, in its response to the legislative scrutiny on the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, recognised the value of the MACE approach to engaging and consulting local communities with the Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, speaking for Government, citing the ‘invaluable’ advice of SEP, especially relating to issues of cross border cooperation and bringing together diverse groups of interests. MACE also informed Government strategies on ICZM in Wales and England for both Welsh and UK Governments, providing “invaluable input to inform both the development and implementation of the Wales ICZM Strategy, including the design of a set of bespoke ICZM indicators for Wales. The Welsh Government highlighted the latter as best practice to the British-Irish Council's Sub-group on ICZM’.  More recently, Cardiff was commissioned by the Marine Management Organisation and Welsh Government to inform their approach to stakeholder engagement in implementing the 2009 Act.

These developments, in turn, have influenced international policy and implementation, including at EU level.  Within the recent EU tender to inform the new EU Directive on ICZM and Marine Planning Directive, EU DG Environment recommended that the Ballinger 2008 COREPOINT report should inform the revision of ICZM indicators and associated governance principles.


[1] Stojanovic T A, Ballinger R C, Smith H D (2004) Successful integrated coastal management: measuring it with research and contributing wise practice. Ocean & Coastal Management 47 (5/6) 273-298. DOI: 10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2004.08.001

[2] Stojanovic T, Barker N (2008) Improving governance through local coastal partnerships in the UK. Geographical Journal 174 (4) 344-360.

[3] Stojanovic T A, Ball I, Ballinger R C, Lymbery G, Dodds W (2009) The role of research networks for science-policy collaboration in coastal areas. Marine Policy 33 (6) 901-911.

[4] Ballinger, R.C., Pickaver, A., Lymbery, G. and Ferreria, M. (2010) An evaluation of the implementation of European ICZM principles, Ocean and Coastal Management, 52, 738 – 749 (DOE: 10.1016/j.oceanman.2010.10.013)

[5]  Stojanovic, T., Green, D.R. and Lymbery, G. (2010) Approaches to Knowledge Sharing and Capacity Building: The Role of Local Information Systems in marine and coastal management, Ocean and Coastal Management, 53 (12), 805 – 815.

[6] Darbra R M, Ronza A, Stojanovic T A, Wooldridge C, Casal J (2005) A procedure for identifying significant environmental aspects in sea ports. Marine Pollution Bulletin 50 (8) 866-874.