Skip to main content
Adrian Chiles and Mehreen Baig on BBC Our Coast

Our Coast

Join Adrian Chiles and Mehreen Baig, as they explore four spectacular coastlines linked by the Irish sea.

About the programme

From the Merseyside shoreline in England to the Ards Peninsula in Northern Ireland, Adrian Chiles and Mehreen Baig immerse themselves fully in the coastal way of life through tackling unique jobs and close encounters with wildlife. 

They’ll uncover the fascinating history of each coastline and find out how its landscapes and livelihoods are being preserved for the future through combing rich factual content, and colourful characters from local communities. 

This timely series promises a fresh look at our vibrant coastlines, highlighting the vital part they can play in all of our lives. To find out more, visit the BBC programme page .

Discover the range of qualifications and modules from the OU related to this programme:

Photo of Snowdrop, a ferry in Liverpool - Our Coast
Plastic in patterned magnetic letters

The seven types of plastic

To understand the types of plastics available, their differences and to figure out what can be recycled, refer to our quick guide below.

1. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETE)

PETE plastic

Can it be recycled?

One of the most commonly recycled plastics, clear bottles are likely to be recycled, remove lids first.

What products is it used in?

Clear bottles (look for 'bubble' on the bottom of a bottle), food trays (clear, green, black etc.).

What does it look like?

A tough plastic which discolours if you bend it.


2. High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

HDPE plastic

Can it be recycled?

Very commonly recycled, remove lids first.

What products is it used in?

White milk bottles all sizes, bleach type bottles, washing machine liquids and some bottle caps.

What does it look like?

A thick touch plastic which will spring back if bent. Caps can usually be flexed.


3. Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC - U)

PVCU

Can it be recycled?

Rarely recycled, check your local area.

What products is it used in?

Clear bottles (look for a line on the bottom of the bottle), food trays, toys, piping, wire insulation. 

What does it look like?

More fragile and will crack and get bent if stressed, bottles make a 'crinkle' cracking sound if squeezed.


4. Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

LDPE

Can it be recycled?

Reuse of bags and targeted collection in supermarkets most likely, but dispose of materials contaminated with food.

What products is it used in?

Plastic bags, plastic wrapping, cling film.

What does it look like?

Can be very thin to thick, but usually flexible and easily torn.


5. Polypropylene (PP)

PP plastic

Can it be recycled?

Not generally recycled, check your local area.

What products is it used in?

Butter and margarine tubs, clear fresh soup containers, some bottle caps, glass jar caps.

What does it look like?

Will shatter into stripes if compressed. Caps will usually be too hard to flex.


6. Polystyrene or Styrofoam (PS)

PS plastic

Can it be recycled?

Not generally recycled, check your local area.

What products is it used in?

Yoghurt pots, insulated disposable cups, some trays, parcel packaging.

What does it look like?

Will tear or pull apart depending on the form.


7. OTHER

Other plastic

Can it be recycled?

Reuse of individual items more likely. Avoid placing in your recycling unless specifically instructed to do so. 

What products is it used in?

Reading glasses, CDs and DVDs and cases, some electrical connections and wiring, general household plastics. 

What does it look like?

The majority of these plastics are very tough and are likely to shatter if pressure is applied.



A view of the open sea, and a wave cresting

Sea level rise | Case studies in England

Sea level rise will affect many parts of the UK, from major cities such as London to many smaller villages and towns. What are the reasons for the sea level rises and what will the impacts be?

London

Thames Barrier closed

"Thames Barrier Closure" by whealie is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Sea level rise will have effects around the coast of the UK, from major cities such as London to many smaller villages and towns.  One place which is in the frontline of present and future sea level rise is London, the capital of the UK.

Why is the sea level rising?

Global sea-level rise is caused by the melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica and the expansion of seawater as it heats up (Humphreys, 2019a).  Over the period 1901-2010 global average sea levels rose 0.19 metres (IPCC, 2013). Predictions for future sea-level rise vary. The impact on varying levels of sea-level rise in different locations can be explored by looking at this map.   

London’s vulnerability to sea-level rise

London has always been vulnerable to the sea as the Thames is tidal and high tides bring increased water levels to the river in the city.  The high tide level of the Thames has risen over time and the risk from tidal surges has increased.  Tidal surges are caused by a combination of a high tide and strong winds which push water towards the land and up rivers.  They affect London when a surge in the Atlantic, funnels down the North Sea, up the English Channel, and then up the Thames Estuary (Carbon Brief, 2014). From the evidence of the London Bridge high water mark, we know that the level has risen since 1780 by over 1.5 metres (Carbon Brief, 2014).  Alongside ice melt increasing seawater volume other factors have important impacts on the changing sea level in London. Around 11,500 years ago ice sheets covering the north of the British Isles began to retreat. The land that had been covered continues to rise in response to the weight of the ice removed.  As this rise occurs in the north a downward tilt occurs in the south. This means that as well as meltwater leading to sea level rise a relative rise occurs due to isostatic rebound as the land rises where it had been depressed by ice sheets. 
In 1953 there was a catastrophic tidal surge. The flooding from the surge caused huge damage and cost 307 lives (RGS, 2020).   It also caused an estimated £50 million (£5 billion in today’s money) (RGS, 2020) in damage and lost income to the city.  The economic importance of London is a central factor in the government response to this issue.

How has London adapted to the challenge?

In 1953 the decision was taken to protect the city with a barrier downstream at Woolwich which could be closed when high tide was forecast.  The Thames Barrier was completed in 1982.  Without the barrier 48 square miles of London would flood: Southwark, West Ham and Whitechapel, as well as the Houses of Parliament and the Westminster area.  The barrier also protects 1.25 million people, property worth £200 billion and infrastructure such as the underground rail system (RGS, Twentieth Century Challenges, 2020).

The Thames Barrier

To watch a video of how the Thames Barrier works from the Environment Agency, click here.  

London's economic value to the UK

London is central to the UK economy and as such is seen as a valuable asset.  A major flood in 1953 with estimated costs of 1.2 billion at 2014 values (Wadey et al., 2015) led to calls for action.  The weighing of costs of inaction i.e. no further protection, and action i.e. spending on further protection measures, has resulted in the UK government prioritizing cities such as London because they deliver high economic value to the economy.  This prioritizing of some places over others in the UK means that populations in centres such as London are protected, whereas populations in small, poorer areas of the UK such as coastal villages and towns away from the cities are left vulnerable to future sea-level rise.  Economic aspects of society are often given precedence in policymaking over social and environmental aspects.

Canary Wharf - a major financial district in London The future for London? 

The Thames Barrier was not intended to protect against sea-level rises caused by climate change (Humphreys, 2018).  When it came into being it was expected to be used 2-3 times per year.  That rate of use has increased in the 2000s and the current yearly average is 6-7 times (UNESCO, 2020). As the effects of climate change continue to create higher sea levels and increased storms the Barrier will not be enough to protect London. Therefore, a new plan for protection has been devised by the Environment Agency.

The new plan for adaption is the Thames Estuary Plan.  This contains protection strategies for the short-term (15 years) and the medium and long-term (until the end of the 21st century), because of the continuing and increasing effects of climate change in the 21st century.  All forecasts predict sea-level rise, but these do vary, creating uncertainty.  Scientific analysis of the effects of climate change is considered very important in government policymaking but this is difficult because there inevitably there is a range of predictions in sea level rise (Humphreys, 2019b). Therefore, the Thames Estuary 2100 plan considers all climate change scenarios (Gov.UK, 2020) and builds in the uncertainties.


Happisburgh, UK

"Happisburgh Cliffs, Norfolk" by .Martin. is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

"Happisburgh Cliffs, Norfolk" by .Martin. is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Sea level rise will have effects around the coast of the UK, from major cities such as London to many smaller villages and towns.  One place which is in the frontline of present and future sea-level rise is Happisburgh in Norfolk.

Coastal erosion in Happisburgh Why is the sea level rising?

Global sea-level rise is caused by the melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica and the expansion of seawater as it heats up (Humphreys, 2019).  Over the period 1901-2010 global average sea levels rose 0.19 metres (IPCC, 2013). 

Predictions for future sea-level rise vary.  The impact on varying levels of sea-level rise in different locations can be explored by looking at this map.   

What are the risks of sea-level rise for Happsiburgh?

Happisburgh (pronounced Haze-Burra) is a village in East Anglia and has always been vulnerable to coastal flooding and erosion.  Jules Pretty writes that ‘the coast strongly defines this region.  Beach, salting, sea wall and marshland’ (Pretty, 2011, cited by Clark, 2013).  For Happisburgh residents threats by the sea is nothing new.  The village has always been at risk of coastal erosion; over the decades there have been 34 homes lost to the sea (Clark, 2013).  However, there has been an accelerating rate of inundation by the sea since the 1970s and the projections for global sea rise and increased storminess will exacerbate the natural erosion. 

No-one disputes that this place is under threat by the sea, but there are differences of opinion on what to do about it.  There are different values and interests at stake.  For local communities such as Happisburgh, the interest is primarily to maintain their community and to protect homes and local infrastructure. 

Planning for sea-level rise – different solutions

For government bodies such as the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) ‘working with nature’ is also seen as an important strategy.  Since the mid-1990s DEFRA has been producing Shoreline Management Plans (SMP) for areas of coastline in England and Wales.  These are controversial as they sometimes take a strategy of non-intervention.  There are three strategies that can be used when managing sea level rise:

  1. Non-intervention
  2. Managed retreat
  3. ‘Holding the line’

The DEFRA plan for Happisburgh is to allow erosion to continue and for the north/south current along the coast to carry sedimentary material to beaches further south of the village (Clark, 2013). DEFRA makes decisions based on economic and environmental impacts and costs.  If the cost of ‘holding the line’ i.e. building protections and physical sea defences is not outweighed by economic benefit, then the decisions will be based on ‘managed retreat’ or ‘non-intervention’.  Non-intervention is not the policy the local community wants (CCAG, 2019).

The effects of sea-level rise in places such as Happisburgh are emotional and social as well as environmental and the local population see their whole way of life as undervalued.  The different values and standpoints of different groups result in conflict over what should be done for Happisburgh for future generations. 

In Happisburgh the local action group: Coastal Concern Action Group (CCAG) have described the policy of ‘non-intervention’ as unfair as communities south of the village will gain better beaches, but they will own worthless properties and might lose their homes (CCAG, 2019).  Climate change has an unequal distribution of negative effects globally and nationally, but also there is an inequality of response to that change i.e. there are winners and losers. Some communities will be protected, and others will not.

To make matters more controversial for Happisburgh, government plans which affect their community also change.  In the past Happisbsurgh was deemed worthy of protection and residents bought houses and made plans on that basis. The 2003 change in policy, from 'hold the line' to 'managed retreat', resulted in properties becoming worthless and people feeling let down (Clark, 2013).  Who has the power to make the decisions is a political issue.  Examples from across the world show that it tends to be communities who are poorer and who have little political leverage who are likely to suffer more from environmental threats (Humphreys, 2019).

The future?

Happisburgh is working hard to get its voice heard and they are appealing to the values of policymakers by linking their fate with places that are deemed of higher economic value to strengthen their case.  The CCAG argues that Great Yarmouth and Norwich could be affected in the future if they are not protected now.  Perhaps the economic value placed on small places such as Happisburgh may rise and therefore the policy could change again.  The future is uncertain.


Looe, Cornwall

Looe harbour, Cornwall UK

"Looe 12. Looe River. Nikon D3100. DSC_0389." by Robert.Pittman is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Looe is the most frequently flooded place in the UK (Environment Agency, cited by Looe Flood Protection project, 2019). This flooding is a result of storm surges during high tides and these have been increasing over the past decades. It’s geographical vulnerability to the sea means that it will become further impacted by predicted sea-level rise as climate change continues. 

Why is the sea level rising?

Global sea-level rise is happening because of two reasons: the melting of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica and thermal expansion, occurring as seawater density increases due to ocean warming so the water expands in volume (Humphreys, 2019).  Over the period 1901-2010 global average sea levels rose 0.19 metres (IPCC, 2013). Predictions for future sea-level rise vary.  The impact on varying levels of sea-level rise in different locations can be explored by looking at this map.  

Sea level rise will have effects across the globe and around the coast of the UK, from major cities such as London to many smaller villages and towns.  One place which is in the frontline of present and future sea-level rise is Looe in Cornwall. 

The impact of sea-level rise on Looe?

Looe is a former fishing port on the coast of Cornwall, where the River Looe meets the sea.  Its economy is dependent on tourism like many coastal villages in Cornwall.  It also still has a thriving fish market.  Families who live in the area are familiar with flooding from the sea when there is a high tide, and these have increased in recent years.  Retired trawlerman Armand Toms, who represents Looe East on Cornwall council, has seen the town flood throughout his life. “If we get a metre more by the end of the century – is anything going to survive here?” (The Guardian, 2019) 

 In recent years flooding has caused damage to people’s homes and has eroded cliffs and beaches around the town.  It is estimated that the town centre could flood up to 60 times a year by 2050, as sea levels and storms increase because of climate change.  1-metre sea rise by 2050 would overwhelm transport infrastructure, the fire station and health services (Hansard, 2019). The community is concerned about the viability of its tourist industry and the fish market if the flooding continues.  The estimate for damages in Looe over the past 5 years is £39 million (Hansard, 2019).

How will Looe adapt?

Cornwall and Looe see action to adapt to sea-level rise as a priority and local plans focus on the social and economic aspects, protecting the existing infrastructure and community, rather than allowing nature to take its course. The harbour authority consulted with the local community to devise the Looe adaption plan (Looe Flood Protection Project, 2019).  This local participation is key to addressing sea-level rise adaption across the world and has been central to devising the plan in Looe. The plan has now expanded to input by Cornwall Council and Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and focuses on protection measures for the housing and infrastructure in the town as well as incorporating economic regeneration plans (LFPP, 2019). The central part of the plan includes physical barriers such as tidal barriers and beach protections. Conservation of the sandy beach is noted as part of the maintenance and enhancement of tourism rather than as an environmental measure.  The council has agreed on the adaption plan; however, funding has not been agreed.  The project would cost £41million (Hansard, 2019).

Can coastal adaptation be afforded?

On a world map of vulnerability to sea level rise, the UK is marked as high risk.  However, in a global context, it is not classified as the most at threat because it has the means to adapt i.e. it is a rich nation (Beck et al, 2014 and Burdett, M. 2018).  The UK government only agreed on funding for 2015 to 2021 of £1.2bn for coastal erosion and sea-flooding projects despite the projected need of that the UK will be £1bn a year for 50 years on river and sea defences (Environment Agency, cited by The Guardian, 2019).  

The UK government has prioritized areas of high population such as London.  Local councils serving small coastal communities such as Looe are expected to raise money for their coastal adaption plans themselves.  The Looe adaption project would cost £41million.  £3.7million of this has been promised by the central UK government (Hansard, 2019). 

The future for Looe?

Looe’s community is dealing with present and future risks and is having to make difficult decisions on the future for themselves and their families. The future for Looe remains uncertain. 


Meet the OU experts

Dr Vicky Johnson
Dr Vicky JohnsonStaff Tutor - GeographyVIEW FULL PROFILE
Dr Vicky Johnson
Dr Vicky JohnsonStaff Tutor - Geography

My teaching and research focuses on elements of environmental study. This includes the value of elements to the environment, such as sea-water quality, and how society reacts both to the generation of these values and their uses. 

I lead the economics line of study across different OU modules of study in relation to the environment. Recently my research has focused on Covid impacts upon the environment, particularly thinking about how recovery expenditure may, or may not, be described as the UKs Green a New Deal. 

Dr Marcus Badger, Open University Lecturer
Dr Marcus BadgerLecturer in Earth Sciences - School of Environment, Earth & Ecosystem SciencesVIEW FULL PROFILE
Dr Marcus Badger, Open University Lecturer
Dr Marcus BadgerLecturer in Earth Sciences - School of Environment, Earth & Ecosystem Sciences

Marcus is a Lecturer in Earth Sciences in the School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences at The Open University. His research concentrates on exploring the links between the Earth’s climate and the carbon cycle on multi-million year timescales. Marcus deploys a range of approaches including the geochemistry of molecular and carbonate fossils, alongside computational climate models.

Marcus teaches across the environment and Earth sciences curriculum at The Open University, and is co-chair of the level 1 STEM module Science: Concepts and Practices.

Explore the OU

A cropped photo of students with documents scattered in front of them.

Open University courses

An image of the OU poster for 'A Perfect Planet'

Order a free OU Poster

A young woman on a computer in a cafe

OU subjects A-Z

A photograph taken in a cafe. A mug is in focus in the foreground, and a man using a laptop is out of focus in the background.

The latest OU news

A photo of a person using a laptop and notebook, and a small dog resting its head on the user's arm

About distance learning

A top-down picture of a man using a laptop at a desk

Free courses

A photo of a man wearing a red hoodie and headphones walking away from the camera, on a busy path by a road

Hear from students

About our BBC partnership

For over 50 years The Open University and the BBC have worked together; co-producing hundreds of hours of programming and bringing learning to life for millions. Find out more about our unique partnership.

OU website