Flooding around Scotland’s coasts is set to increase because of sea level rises of up to 32cm by 2080, an influential new study has found. The report, Coastal Flooding in Scotland: A Scoping Study, commissioned for the Scottish Government and prepared by scientists at Dundee University, warned action was needed to manage the looming problem.

The study highlighted that almost 25,000 properties across Scotland are currently at risk of coastal flooding on average once in 200 years. The Falkirk local authority area has the highest exposure to such flooding, with just over 6,000 properties at risk. The report estimates that by the 2080s sea levels will be about 20cm higher in the Clyde estuary, 28cm higher in Moray and Aberdeenshire and 32cm higher in the Northern Isles.

The report further found that in response to recent sea level rise, the height of storm surges are increasing in height by up to 2.2mm a year. Dr Tom Bell, the report’s author, said, “We are pretty confident that the sea level will increase in most areas around the Scottish coast. It is fair to say that where the sea level is going up it’s going to exacerbate the hazard.” He added that low-lying areas with inlets or river estuaries were most at risk.

The researchers studied more than 300 coastal floods since 1849 and discovered the Solway Firth, Moray Firth, Aberdeenshire and Firth of Clyde had suffered the most. They also found that storms driven in from the Atlantic Ocean during periods of strong westerly winds were the main cause of coastal flooding.

Andrea Johnstonova, freshwater policy officer at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland, said it was necessary to seek natural, long-term solutions such as “managed coastal realignment”, where some areas are left to be taken over by the sea. She said there was currently a lack of innovative projects to address the increased threat of coastal flooding and sea level rise, and called for it to be the focus of the new Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Bill, which is due to be put before the Scottish Parliament next week. “Climate change and sea level rise is going to increase the risk of coastal flooding in future, putting additional pressure on existing coastal defences and threatening coastal habitats and wildlife,” she said. Dr Ball agreed that coastal realignment could be worth considering in some cases, and said it would probably not have to involve the abandonment of any homes.