The village of Fairbourne, on the coast of Barmouth Bay in Wales, is expected to become abandoned soon as a result of climate change. The rising sea levels have now become uncontrollable, according to the Gwynedd Council, and will most likely lead to the first ever climate change refugees in Britain. Within the next two decades, a task force led by the Council will begin evacuating the village, which is home to 850 residents, and the land will be returned into a tidal salt marsh.
Due to the flat terrain, low lying aspect and elevated water table, Fairbourne is prone to flooding and is therefore protected by a sea wall, earth banks and a network of drainage channels. In 2014, The Fairbourne Moving Forward Project Board, led by Gwynedd Council where Natural Resources Wales (NRW) was a member, had intended to defend the village for a period of 40 years. Defences of the village were also recently improved through a £6.8m scheme. However, the council is facing a shortfall of £13m and has decided that it can no longer afford to defend the village.
As Fairbourne becomes the first Welsh village to become completely deserted, residents face an uncertain future. Will the plans and strategies for evacuation and resettlement set an important precedent for future evacuations in the UK? And will they prove adequate from the residents' point of view?
Sea levels around the UK have risen in the last century and will continue to escalate, as global sea levels are expected to rise by more than two metres at the end of this century according to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This will leave several coastal communities, especially smaller ones, at risk. A report for the government Committee on Climate Change (CCC) last year found nearly 530,000 properties at risk along the English coast and stated that in the future, “some coastal communities and infrastructure are likely to be unviable in their current form”.
The risk of abandonment has already affected the economy of the village, with tourism, mortgages and livelihoods suffering. The relocation of residents will also have its own consequences including issues with new areas absorbing fresh residents and added pressure on land due to overpopulation. Since the decommissioning of Fairbourne is the first of its kind, local authorities are also struggling with the logistics of the change.
It is now high time for authorities to accept that these changes are inevitable and start making necessary arrangements, both vis-a-vis relocation plans as well as for the existing economy and society. How many more climate change victims will it take in the UK for other councils to start confronting the issue?