Bude in Cornwall awarded £2m to fight climate threat

Exclusive: National Lottery funds will help vulnerable coastal town combat effects of rise in sea-level

A coastal town in Cornwall where rising sea levels threaten to wipe out homes, beaches and businesses in a few decades’ time has been awarded £2m to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

The money awarded to the popular tourist destination of Bude, in north Cornwall, and 11 surrounding parishes, from the National Lottery’s climate action fund, comes as the area faces an existential threat from the heating planet.

The whole Cornish coast is judged by the Environment Agency to be highly sensitive to sea-level rise, but Bude is considered to be the most sensitive of all. A map of climate risks produced by NGO Climate Central shows the town and surrounding area under serious threat from sea level rises by 2050.

The lottery grant is among the biggest to be awarded by the climate action fund, and the area is the smallest community to receive such a significant financial input.

Nick Gardner, head of climate action at the National Lottery community fund, said the grant reflected the threat the community was under and the ambition of their plans to make their area more resilient.

The United Nations environmental programme says the sustainability of coastal tourism destinations depends on their ability to adapt. “It is the degree to which people are prepared for disasters that determines how vulnerable or resilient their community will be,” the UNEP says.

Robert Uhlig, the founder and programme director of the Bude Climate Partnership, said the money would be transformational in terms of building long-term economic, social and environmental resilience in the small coastal community. “In effect, we’re the UK’s Maldives: idyllic and beautiful, but facing an existential and imminent threat to our way of life due to climate change. We’re highly exposed to the physical impacts of climate change like few other places in the UK – record temperatures in the summer; destruction of our community assets by winter storms.

“Our vulnerability is exacerbated by social and economic challenges as the most isolated community in Cornwall.

“We need to make sure we are helping businesses and people see where they are vulnerable and what they need to do. Building resilience is about getting everyone to work together, so that it is not just people doing their own thing, but all of us pulling together which will make sure we have much greater resilience to the threat.”

Three-quarters of a million pounds is being targeted at making tourism more sustainable within Bude, where more than 70% of local businesses and 40% of jobs are dependent on the holiday industry. Floods, droughts and extreme heat as well as the impact on the natural environment, are all a risk to the business of tourism, and show the vulnerability of the area’s social and economic future, a report from the Bude Climate Partnership says. Tourism’s reliance on the quality of the natural environment means there is an overwhelming imperative to take action, says Uhlig.

Bude is already facing climate change impacts on its wellbeing and way of life, from the intense heat this summer to flooding, and tidal changes. Bude’s 186-year-old storm tower, which sits on the edge of a crumbling coastline, is one of the first structures in the UK that is being moved because of the impacts of climate change.

Uhlig said the area’s vulnerability was greater because it was an area of high socio-economic deprivation, with significantly older, less energy-efficient homes than the national average, and some of the lowest access to public services and highest rates of rural child poverty in Cornwall.

As well as being at risk of climate impacts, the tourism industry is a contributor to carbon emissions. More than a million visitor nights are spent in the Bude area each year, with most tourists arriving by car. Bude Climate Partnership estimates the industry contributes 50% of the community’s carbon emissions.

The tourism project, which starts this month and will run for five years, aims to cascade knowledge and resilience down from one tourism business to another, and involve visitors. It aims to halve the carbon footprints of at least 50 businesses in five areas. Manda Brookman, who runs a social enterprise, said: “Bude is on the frontline … its existential presence is under threat.

“Most people know that there is something wrong, but don’t know what it is, how big it is and what they can do about it, which is really a political and structural failure. Active hope means not sitting on your arse on the sofa clutching a lottery ticket, it is an axe you use to break down the door during an emergency. So active hope is building net resilience for now, and for tomorrow.”

The funding from National Lottery is part of a wider movement that is distributing £100m over 10 years across the UK to local climate action groups.

Gardner said Bude’s ambition could become an examplar for other coastal areas. “We want to help with systemic change,” he said. “There are lots of coastal areas in Cornwall that are under threat but Bude has the unwelcome mandate of being the most vulnerable community to sea level rises.”

Gardner said communities in areas particularly threatened by global heating were ready to take action locally and knew what they wanted to do to adapt.

“There is no shortage of ideas but there is a shortage of funding. We are trying to help people in their own communities take steps to make their lives and their communities more resilient and to take steps to reduce their emissions. And once they see themselves as actors in that, they are more likely to make demands of politicians to support policies that tackle climate change. It is grassroots up.”


Sandra Laville

The GuardianTramp

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