Forvie’s coastal defences

It’s the Year of Coast and Waters 2020. While many of the events that were planned have been put on hold due to the COVID crisis, we can still appreciate some aspects of Forvie NNR in celebration of the year. 

While I’m a tad biased, I think Forvie is a beautiful example of a coastal site. With imposing and dynamic dunes, raised shingles beaches and impressive cliffs to boot, Forvie’s almost got it all. These habitats are essential for our wildlife here at Forvie, wildlife which is often unique to the coast. The terns and gulls occupy the raised beaches annually, the cliffs are home to our cliff-nesting seabirds and the dune slacks support a wide variety of flora. 

Coastal cliff habitat, Razobill sitting on egg

Lots of people will know the importance of these habitats for our wildlife, some will even know that this isn’t the only reason they are important. More to the title of this article, our habitats at Forvie are a coastal defence. Other areas along the coast that are more flat in nature or have farmed land are at risk of flooding from the sea during storms. Looking inot the nto the future, they are at risk of slowly being lost to rising sea levels as well.

Natural coastal barriers at Forvie NNR

Our coastal features here at Forvie for example act as a buffer, protecting inland areas against storm events. It’s easy to picture how cliffs accomplish this, they are huge physical barriers against the sea. Our dune system, from Aberdeen to Forvie NNR, acts in much the same way. Both play a similar role as a physical barrier along the coast, but our dunes are more flexible. With each storm, parts of the dunes will be eroded as it would with the clifs, albeit much slower a process. During periods of normal weather, wind and wave action bring new sand to the dunes replenishing them. The dune system is kept in a balance through the removal and addition of sand to the system!

View of dunes at Forvie NNR in evening light
Evening light on the sand dunes and beach at Sands of Forvie National Nature Reserve, ©Lorne Gill

Our dunes and cliffs aren’t our only coastal defence here at Forvie, some are less obvious. Natural wetlands like our saltmarsh play a role here too. As you approach Forvie NNR from waterside carpark, the grassy saltmarsh and mudflats are some of the first bits of habitat you will see along the estuary. The saltmarsh acts as a sponge, soaking up water and mitigating flood risks along the estuary! As well as playing an essential role for our waders and waterfowl, they are becoming increasingly recognised for this role it plays in defending our coastline. 

Not that it needed visualisation, but during a not very interesting movie on Saturday night I whipped open paint on my laptop and prepared a little diagram.

The above points are not to say that these coastal habitats are immune to the pressures of climate change. With more storm events and rising sea levels, each of these habitats will face increased erosion at Forvie and elsewhere. Yet our natural coastal habitats are better equipt to deal with pressures from the sea than other habitat types. They are an integral part of Scotlands Coast so take some time and appreciate the benefits of our coastal landscape when you’re next out at Forvie!