Nature reserves in the North Norfolk Coast Site of Special Scientific Interest

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North Norfolk Coast SSSI
Protected Area
View across lagoons to a shingle bank
Country England
Region East of England
County Norfolk
Biome Reed bed, salt marsh, dunes,
Animal Eurasian bittern, pied avocet, western marsh harrier
Founded 1986
For public Mainly open year round
Protection status SSSI, SAC, SPA, Ramsar Site and AONB
Norfolk SSSI outline map with UK.jpg
North Norfolk Coast SSSI shown within Norfolk in red

The North Norfolk Coast Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) is an internationally important protected area in Norfolk, England. The SSSI is a long, narrow strip of coastal land that starts between Old Hunstanton and Holme-next-the-Sea, and runs east for about 43 km (27 mi) to Kelling. The southern boundary runs roughly west to east except where it detours around towns and villages, and never crosses the A149 coast road.[1] It has an area of 7,700 ha (19,027 acres), and is additionally protected through Natura 2000, Special Protection Area (SPA) and Ramsar listings; it is also part of the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).[2][3] Scolt Head Island and the coast from the Holkham National Nature Reserve to Salthouse are a Biosphere Reserve.[4]

The North Norfolk Coast SSSI contains a variety of habitats including foreshore, shingle, salt marshes, reed bed and pasture, and is important primarily for the breeding populations of nationally and internationally scarce bird species, and also the large numbers of wildfowl it supports in winter. More than three-quarters of the SSSI has been acquired as nature reserves by conservation organisations, whose properties also hold several rare or endangered invertebrates and plants. The mixed pattern of ownership of the ten reserves existing in 2012 reflects the availability of land for purchase or management over the preceding century, and the differing priorities of the various bodies.


The North Norfolk Coast SSSI was created in 1986 from prexisting SSSIs at Blakeney Point, Holme Dunes, Cley Marshes, Salthouse Marshes (all designated in 1954), Morston Saltmarshes, Brancaster Manor (1968), Stiffkey Saltmarshes (1969), Thornham Marshes (1972) and Titchwell Marsh (1973), together with the national nature reserves (NNRs) at Scolt Head Island and Holkham, and substantial formerly undesignated areas. It has a wide variety of habitats. Bare mud, sand and shingle characterise the intertidal zone along the whole of the coast, although higher areas may have algae or eelgrass that are grazed by ducks and geese in winter. The salt marshes which form on sheltered parts of the coast, in the lee of islands, or behind spits are described in the SSSI notification document as "among the best in Europe ... flora is exceptionally diverse". Sand dunes occur at several places along the coast, but the best examples are at Holme Dunes, Holkham, Blakeney Point, and Scolt Head Island. The latter two sites are also important for geomorphology research purposes as structures consisting mainly of shingle ridges. Reed beds are fairly localised, but substantial areas occur at Titchwell Marsh, Brancaster and Cley Marshes. Grassland is represented by livestock grazing pasture reclaimed from former salt marsh, with wetter areas at Cley and Salthouse marshes. Woodland is limited in the SSSI, although a belt of Corsican pine planted at Holkham has provided shelter to allow other trees and shrubs to become established.[2]

The SSSI is designated as a Special Protection Area for birds because its variety of coastal habitats give it year-round importance for a number of species. The breeding colonies of Sandwich terns and little terns, especially those at Blakeney and Scolt Head Island,[5][6] are of European importance, and the coast is of national significance for common terns, pied avocets and reed bed specialists like western marsh harriers, Eurasian bitterns and bearded reedlings.[2] The SSSI also holds large numbers of wintering ducks and geese,[7] the endangered water vole,[8][9] and scarce species like natterjack toad,[10][11] starlet sea anemone, lesser centaury, sea barley[12] and bee orchid.[13]

Because of the wildlife importance of the area, much of what is now the SSSI has been protected in nature reserves, starting in 1912 when Charles Rothschild bought Blakeney Point and donated it to the National Trust, which has managed it since.[5] A 2005 survey at six North Norfolk coastal sites (Snettisham, Titchwell, Holkham, Morston Quay, Blakeney and Cley) found that 39 per cent of visitors gave birdwatching as the main purpose of their visit. The 7.7 million day visitors and 5.5 million who made overnight stays in the area in 1999 are estimated to have spent £122 million, and created the equivalent of 2,325 full-time jobs. Titchwell Marsh (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), Cley Marshes (Norfolk Wildlife Trust) and Holkham National Nature Reserve each attract 100,000 or more visitors annually.[4] The SSSI ownership outside the listed areas is a mixture of private land and areas owned by the National Trust or wildfowling associations which are not actively managed as nature reserves.[2][14][15]


The ten reserves existing in 2012 had a combined area of 6,016 ha (14,863 acres), 78 percent of the SSSI. Although they have no legal protection beyond that of privately owned land, they may have more active management or provide visitor facilities. The mixed ownership reflects land becoming available for purchase or management at various times, and the differing priorities of the conservation bodies.[16][17][18]

Nature reserves in the North Norfolk Coast Site of Special Scientific Interest
Reserve name   Management   Area   Date   Remarks   Grid ref.[A]
Blakeney Point National Trust 1,097 ha (2,710 acres)[19] 1912[5] A national nature reserve.[19] A 3-mile-long sand and shingle spit that the sea is slowly moving landwards.[20] TG047452
Cley Marshes Norfolk Wildlife Trust 176 ha (435 acres)[21] 1926[22] Visitor centre and bird hides.[23] Arnold's Marsh in the northeast corner of the reserve is owned by the National Trust.[24] In 2012 the NWT launched a public appeal to raise £1 million to purchase 58 hectares (143 acres) of private land immediately to the east of the existing reserve, and also adjoining the existing NWT reserve at Salthouse Marshes.[25] TG054440
Holkham National Nature Reserve Natural England and the Holkham Estate 3,531 ha (8,725 acres)[26] 1967[27] Owned by the Earl of Leicester's Holkham Estate and the Crown Estates. Foreshore, sand dunes and sandspits, salt marsh, pine trees, shrub and grazing pasture. Two bird hides.[10] TF891440
Holme Bird Observatory Norfolk Ornithological Association 5 ha (13 acres)[28] 1962[28] A bird ringing site for studying migration. Mainly scrubby dunes and pine trees.[28] TF714448
Holme Dunes Norfolk Wildlife Trust 213 ha (526 acres)[29] 1965[30] Also a national nature reserve. Sand dunes, grazing marsh, salt marsh and freshwater pools. Natural habitats maintained largely by coastal processes.[29] TF714449
Kelling Quags Norfolk Ornithological Association 5.7 ha (14 acres)[7] 1984[31] Pools and wet grazing meadows behind a shingle ridge.[7][31] TG093437
Salthouse Marshes Norfolk Wildlife Trust 66 ha (163 acres)[32] 1971[33] Pools and wet grazing meadows behind a shingle ridge.[7] TG071445
Scolt Head Island Natural England 737 ha (1,821 acres)[34] 1968[35] Owned jointly by The National Trust and Norfolk Wildlife Trust.[35] Island with sand dunes, salt marsh, shingle and tidal sand and mud flats, largely non-interventionist management.[34] TF846457
Stiffkey Fen Buxton Conservation Trust 14 ha (35 acres)[36] 1999[37] Reed bed and a fresh water lagoon with islands. Donated to the Trust by Lord Buxton.[36] TF986436
Titchwell Marsh Royal Society for the Protection of Birds 171 ha (420 acres)[38] 1973[39] Reed bed, freshwater lagoon, tidal lagoon and dunes. Visitor centre and bird hides.[40] TF750437


A The grid reference is based on the British national grid reference system, and is the system used by the Ordnance Survey. Data is given for the main access point. Holkham National Nature Reserve has two road accesses.[41]


  1. ^ "North Norfolk Coast SSSI". Nature on the map. Natural England. Archived from the original on 2012-12-24.  Retrieved 23 August 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d "North Norfolk Coast" (PDF). SSSI citations. Natural England. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-09-26.  Retrieved 8 November 2011.
  3. ^ "Other conservation designations within the AONB" (PDF). Norfolk Coast AONB Management Plan 2009-14. Norfolk Coast Partnership.  Retrieved 8 November 2011.
  4. ^ a b Liley (2008) pp. 4–6.
  5. ^ a b c "Blakeney Point National Nature Reserve" (PDF). Natural England.  Retrieved 14 August 2012.
  6. ^ "Scolt Head Island NNR". Natural England.  Retrieved 14 August 2012.
  7. ^ a b c d Harrup & Redman (2010) pp. 233–250.
  8. ^ "Water voles in the North Pennines" (PDF). North Pennines AONB Partnership. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-07-29.  Retrieved 9 November 2011.
  9. ^ "Water Vole" (PDF). Species leaflet. Norfolk Wildlife Trust. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-08-09.  Retrieved 28 June 2012.
  10. ^ a b Natural England (2009) pp. 7–15.
  11. ^ "Natterjack toad Bufo calamita". Wildlife in Norfolk. Norfolk Wildlife Trust.  Retrieved 14 August 2012.
  12. ^ Norfolk Wildlife Trust (2005) pp. 12–15.
  13. ^ "Dunes". Holkham National Nature Reserve. Holkham Estate. Archived from the original on 2012-12-15.  Retrieved 18 August 2012.
  14. ^ Ryan (1969) p 165
  15. ^ Finch, Will (21 January 2011). "Kent wildfowlers buy up north Norfolk marshland". Shooting Times. London: IPC Media Ltd.  Retrieved 1 September 2012.
  16. ^ "Reserves". Natural England.  Retrieved 9 September 2012.
  17. ^ "Reserves". Norfolk Wildlife Trust. Archived from the original on 2012-06-14.  Retrieved 9 September 2012.
  18. ^ "Our work". Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.  Retrieved 9 September 2012.
  19. ^ a b "Blakeney NNR". Our work. Natural England.  Retrieved 28 August 2012.
  20. ^ "Blakeney Chapel SAM (Scheduled Ancient Monument), North Norfolk". HELM (Historic Environment Local Management). English Heritage.  Retrieved 19 September 2011
  21. ^ Turner et al. (2001) pp. 128–139.
  22. ^ "The Wildlife Trusts celebrate 100 years of nature conservation". News, 15 May 2012. Norfolk Wildlife Trust. Archived from the original on 24 December 2012.  Retrieved 26 June 2012.
  23. ^ "Cley Marshes". Nature reserves. Norfolk Wildlife Trust.  Retrieved 7 June 2012.
  24. ^ Allen & Pye (1992) p. 151.
  25. ^ Norfolk Wildlife Trust (2012) Cley Marshes land purchase appeal leaflet.
  26. ^ "North Norfolk Coast SSSI". Nature on the map. Natural England. Archived from the original on 2012-08-12.  Click link for data. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  27. ^ Allen & Pye (1992) p. 148.
  28. ^ a b c "Holme Bird Observatory and Reserve". Norfolk Ornithological Association.  Retrieved 28 August 2012.
  29. ^ a b "Holme Dunes National Nature Reserve" (PDF). Natural England. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-09-02.  Retrieved 28 August 2012.
  30. ^ "Holme Dunes". Nature Reserves. Norfolk Wildlife Trust.  Retrieved 28 August 2012.
  31. ^ a b "Nature reserves". Norfolk Ornithological Association.  Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  32. ^ "Salthouse Marshes". Nature reserves. Norfolk Wildlife Trust.  Retrieved 30 July 2012.
  33. ^ Norfolk Naturalists' Trust & Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists' Society. "List of reserves". Transactions – Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists' Society. 23 (1): 69. 
  34. ^ a b "Scolt Head Island NNR". Our work. Natural England.  Retrieved 28 August 2012.
  35. ^ a b Rowley (2006) p. 365.
  36. ^ a b Shepherd, Ian (August 2005). "Stiffkey Fen: The creation of a wetland" (PDF). RGCG Newsletter. Glandford, Norfolk: River Glaven Conservation Group. p. 4. Retrieved 28 August 2012. [permanent dead link]
  37. ^ "Buxton Conservation Trust". Charity framework. Charity Commission.  Retrieved 28 August 2012.
  38. ^ Hammomd (1984) pp. 167–168.
  39. ^ The RSPB and Titchwell Marsh. RSPB information sheet.
  40. ^ "Finding your way around" (PDF). Titchwell Marsh. RSPB. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-03-05.  Retrieved 11 November 2011.
  41. ^ "Guide to National Grid". Ordnance Survey. Archived from the original on 2007-10-27.  Retrieved 31 August 2012.

Cited texts

  • Allen, J R L; Pye, K (1992). Saltmarshes; morphodynamics, conservation and engineering significance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521418416. 
  • Hammomd, Nicholas (ed) (1984). RSPB nature reserves. Sandy, Beds: RSPB. ISBN 0-903138-12-3. 
  • Harrup, Simon; Redman, Nigel (2010). Where to watch birds in Britain. London: Christopher Helm. ISBN 978-1-4081-1059-1. 
  • Liley, D (2008). Development and the north Norfolk coast. Scoping document on the issues relating to access (PDF). Wareham, Dorset: Footprint Ecology. Archived (PDF) from the original on 18 September 2012. 
  • Natural England (2009). Holkham National Nature Reserve. Sheffield: Natural England. Catalogue Code: NE167.  (automatic download). ISBN 978-1-84754-133-X
  • Norfolk Wildlife Trust (2005). NWT Cley and Salthouse Marshes Management Plan April 2005–March 2010. Norwich: Norfolk Wildlife Trust. 
  • Rowley, Trevor (2006). The English Landscape in the Twentieth Century. London: Hambledon Continuum. ISBN 1852853883. 
  • Ryan, Peter (1969). The National Trust and the National Trust for Scotland. London: J M Dent. 
  • Turner, R K; Bateman, I J; Adger W N (2001). Economics of Coastal and Water Resources: Valuing Environmental Functions (Studies in Ecological Economics). London: Springer. ISBN 0-7923-6504-6. 

External links

  • Natural England's interactive map of the SSSI
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