In Devon, in the south west of England, the Braunton Burrows Biosphere Reserve covers a huge area of coast and countryside. It’s one of 531 biosphere reserves around the world designated by UNESCO as living laboratories which are providing new insights into the relationship between people and nature, and how we can prepare for environmental change.
Sea level rise, caused by global warming, is a major problem here. To map the changes taking place Andy Bell, Chair of the UK Man and Biosphere Programme, is using a new technique – LIDAR, a cross between laser beams and radar.
‘The modelling we’ve done for the next 100 years means that we are going to have to think about moving – we can’t play King Canute to try and stop things all the time,’ he tells Earth Report. “We can’t keep on putting millions of pounds into holding a situation that isn’t really sustainable. There has to be a time when we move back.’
Andy Bell’s mapping has already led to one concrete result – the decision to give some farmland back to the sea by creating new areas of salt marsh. Rising sea levels are eating away at the existing salt marshes which provide natural flood defences, so now the Programme’s creating new salt marshes to help prepare for the future.
Coastal communities across the world face similar predicaments so the UK Braunton Burrows Biosphere Reserve has twinned with a biosphere reserve on the coast of Kenya. Although thousands of kilometres apart, the two reserves share common problems – climate change and sea level rise are affecting their coastlines; tourism is their major income source, and their wildlife habitats are under threat from both humans and climate change.