Expert Couplet for the Severn Estuary

1. The Severn ECN

Who we are

The Marine and Coastal Environment Group (MACE) researchers within the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff University are working with the Severn Estuary Partnership (SEP) to inform climate change adaptation on the Severn.  University researchers and SEP have a long relationship dating back over the last decade, working together on various previous projects including the Interreg IIIB COREPOINT project.

Cardiff University IMCORE contact:

Rhoda Ballinger, Cardiff University,


Severn Estuary Partnership IMCORE contact :

Jen Reis, SEP:

General enquiries:


Severn Estuary ECN aims

On the Severn Estuary IMCORE aims to:

  • Increasing awareness of climate change impacts and adaptation options
  • Encourage joint working and improved interaction between scientists and policy makers
  • Inform the development of guidelines for the assisting with the identification of adaptation options

These will be achieved by:

  • Enhancing the science base on climate change for estuary planning and management
  • Stocktaking corporate responses to climate change and evaluating the policy needs for climate change information and data
  • Exploring mechanisms for enhancing science-policy integration on climate change at estuary-wide and local levels
  • Developing dissemination and education materials on climate change and its impacts on the estuary

2. The Severn Estuary

Physical Characteristics

The Severn Estuary is located on the west coast of the British Isles and separates South West England from South Wales.  It is Britain’s second largest estuary and has one of the largest catchments, extending into the English Midlands and into Mid-Wales.  With an area of 557 km2, including an intertidal area of 100 km2 (22,000ha), the estuary boasts the second largest tidal range in the world. The tidal regime of the estuary causes strong tidal streams, mobile sediments and high turbidity. The Severn is a large coastal plain estuary, and is extremely diverse, supporting areas of open, low lying coast, salt marshes, tidal flats and offshore islands.

Ecological Characteristics

The Severn Estuary is internationally known for nature conservation and is part of the Natura 2000 network of conservation sites. As well as supporting over 100 species of marine fish, the estuary habitat is internationally important for migratory fish, supporting such species as salmon and the internationally rare shad. In winter the estuary regularly supports nationally important numbers of various species of waterfowl as well as some of international importance including the dunlin, Bewick’s swan and the European white-fronted goose. The Severn also boasts the only known extensive subtidal reefs of the honeycomb worm, Sabellaria alveolata, in Britain.

Human Characteristics

Over one million people living adjacent to the estuary’s shores, mainly in extensive urban areas around the cities of Cardiff, Newport, Bristol and Gloucester. For centuries the region has been a focus for human activities, a location for settlement, a source of food, water and raw materials and a gateway for trading and exploration. The estuary boasts a rich archaeological and maritime history including significant Paleolithic and Mesolithic finds as well as exceptional maritime discoveries of Bronze Age, Medieval and Roman age.

Today, significant industrial development, ports and port-related activities are supported by excellent land and sea communications, including links to Britain’s major motorway network and the ports provide a gateway to the Atlantic. Estuary industries include port installations, chemical processing plants and power stations. Deep-water channels, cooling water, cheap waste disposal and offshore aggregates (for construction) are the estuary’s natural ‘resources’ for such activities. Today, the maritime interests of the estuary include significant recreational activity related to seaside resorts and fashionable waterfronts.  The potential for offshore renewable energy generation, including tidal energy, is also currently receiving considerable interest. Tidal Power Resource Page.

Potential impacts of climate change

One of the most significant threats to the estuary over the next hundred years comes from climate change. With significant urban development and critical infrastructure associated with the low-lying coasts of the Severn Estuary, a key consideration is protecting these assets from flooding and erosion impacts of severe storms.  Whilst much of the estuary already benefits from significant stretches of coastal defence, particularly around the Wentlooge and Caldicot levels on the Welsh coast and around the Somerset Levels on the English coast, hard structures cannot easily be relocated to cater for changes in sea level. Whilst potential changes in storminess, sea level and wave climate could lead to major economic and social losses if defences are breached or overtopped, the major consideration for estuary management is the potential for ‘coastal squeeze’ along these developed and defended shorelines. This could result in a significant loss of intertidal habitat and associated internationally important conservation and heritage features.

Further details of climate change impacts can be obtained from the Severn Estuary IMCORE website.

The local/regional context of adaptation to climate change

There is an extensive range of plans, strategies and guidance relating to climate change adaptation which is relevant to the Severn Estuary.  This includes local government climate change strategies and plans specifically dedicated to shoreline management and flood risk in the estuary as well as a plethora of spatial and development plans.

The report of a recent extensive stocktake and review of climate change strategies and development plans around the Severn Estuary can be found HERE

3. Severn ECN activities

Increasing awareness of climate change impacts and adaptation options

Activities include:

  • engaging with local government, strategic planners, schools and other relevant stakeholders to encourage joint working on climate change adaptation and estuary management
  • use of exploratory and predictive scenarios to illustrate future adaptation contexts
  • evaluation of previous extreme weather events on the estuary and human responses to these events to inform future adaptation options
  • relevant input to the Severn State of the Estuary process & report
  • the development of an IMCORE Severn Estuary education pack

Informing the development of guidelines for the assisting with the identification of adaptation options

Activities include:

  • Review of existing guidelines on climate change adaptation relevant to the Severn Estuary
  • Development of principles for adaptation to coastal change on the Severn
  • Development of guidelines for science-policy integration on the Severn Estuary (with particular reference to local authority policy development)

Enhancing the science base on climate change for estuary planning and management

This is being achieved through the development of the:

  • Severn Estuary Climate Change Advisory Group (SECCRAG)
  • Severn Estuary Climate Change Citation database
  • relevant sections of the Severn Estuary Partnership’s State of the Estuary report

Stocktaking corporate responses to climate change and evaluating the policy needs for climate change information and data

This has included stocktakes of:

  • UK, Welsh, regional and local government policies relevant to climate change
  • national and regional guidance on information needs for local planning policy development

There has also been an analysis of existing planning / policy documents and investigation of existing sources of climate change information/data

Encouraging joint working and improved interaction between scientists and policy makers and exploring mechanisms for enhancing science-policy integration on climate change at estuary-wide and local levels

  • This is being developed through the Severn Estuary Climate Change Advisory Group.

4. News & Events

Coastal Planning – a joint Severn Estuary Partnership, RTPI Cymru and RTPI South West conference was recently held in Bristol. This brought  together organisations and individuals to hear about new developments in marine and coastal planning and to discuss the implications of climate change for planning in coastal areas.

Further information

Severn Estuary Workshop with local schools

This workshop with local schools will focus on climate change adaptation and is being organised in association with the Beacons Young People’s Climate Change Forum” – the YoCCo Forum project.

Further information

Severn Estuary Futures Scenario Workshops

Interactive workshops with key stakeholders in planning and technical services within local government around the Severn Estuary will develop future exploratory scenarios for adaptation planning over the next 30 years.  This will help inform the development of climate change adaptation guidelines for the Estuary as well as informing future work of the Severn Estuary Partnership (SEP).

These Workshops were held on the following dates:

Cardiff  (Cardiff University),  Friday 15  October
Bristol  (The Bristol Hotel, Prince Street), Monday 18 October

Severn Estuary Climate Change Research Group (SECCRAG)

SECCRAG, an informal network of researchers and users of climate change science around the estuary, has met several times throughout the previous Interreg IIIB COREPOINT and current Interreg IVB IMCORE projects. During a series of workshops and conferences the group has discussed the state of climate change science relating to the estuary as well as the translation and dissemination of such science to the Severn Estuary policy makers.  A winter 2010 workshop is planned to explore the future development of the group.

Further details will be available on the SEP IMCORE website

Further information

SEP IMCORE website:


Dr Rhoda Ballinger

Severn Estuary Expert Couplet

Marine & Coastal Research Group, Cardiff University

Severn Estuary Partnership

A multi-disciplinary research group conducting both pure and applied research on the marine and coastal environment, including:

  • Marine Science and Survey
  • Marine Environmental Management
  • Integrated Coastal and Sea Management
  • Education and training



Dr. R.C Ballinger – IMCORE Project Manager


  • Integrated Coastal and Coastal Risk Management
  • Marine Environmental Management
  • Marine and Coastal Policy
  • Education and Training

Dr H.Smith


  • Marine Policy
  • Coastal and Marine Management
  • Education and Training

Cdr N.Rodgers


  • Meteorology
  • Oceanography
  • Applied Climatology

Mr A.Rogers –


  • Cartography
  • Geographical Information Systems

Dr. W. Dodds – IMCORE Research Assistant


  • Integrated Coastal Management
  • Flood & Coastal Erosion Risk Management
  • Coastal Policy & Planning

Ms C. Hovey – IMCORE Research Assistant


  • Coastal Science
  • Coastal Engineering & Risk Management
  • Coastal Hydrography

Glamorgan University – Centre for Research in Futures and Innovation


Mr M.Rhisiart


  • Foresight and Futures Research
  • Futures and climate change adaptation
  • Innovation Management

Mr G.While


  • Foresight and Futures Research
  • Integrated Coastal Zone Management
  • Disaster Planning
  • Creative Industries
Set up in 1995, the Severn Estuary Partnership is an independent, estuary-wide initiative led by local authorities and statutory agencies. We work with all those involved in the management of the estuary, from planners to port authorities, fishermen to farmers and many more.

The Severn Estuary Strategy was launched in 2001 after several years of work developing consensus and agreement. It now provides a strategic management framework.

The Partnership brings people together to resolve problems and realise opportunities.
We currently:

  • Provide mechanisms to improve communication
  • Encourage a partnership approach
  • Are a focal point for research
  • Highlight examples of good practice
  • Source funding for new projects

The Severn Estuary Partnership will:

  • Establish a set of ‘principles’ for the estuary that are delivered locally through individual strategies, policies and action plans
  • Act as a coordinating body to ensure that agreed actions are delivered efficiently and effectively
  • Promote and publicise the estuary at national and international level
  • Add value and fill gaps providing extra capacity as necessary
  • Ensure effective communications between organisations and individuals. An interface between organisations and the public, disseminates information and promotes stakeholder involvement.


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