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AONB designation

The Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty was designated in 1968 under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, 1949. The final area confirmed (174 square miles, but re-measured in the 1990s as 453 square kilometres) includes the greater part of the remaining unspoiled coastal areas between the Wash and Great Yarmouth.

The western outlier, coming within two miles of King's Lynn, takes in part of Sandringham Estate including Sandringham House, and also about six miles of the south-eastern corner of the Wash. The holiday resort of Hunstanton, and the coast immediately to the south of it, is not included, but from nearby Old Hunstanton a continuous coastal strip, varying in depth between three to five miles (five to eight kilometres), extends eastwards to a point near Bacton, excluding the built-up areas of the resorts of Sheringham, Cromer, Overstrand and Mundesley. The eastern outlier stretches from Sea Palling to Winterton, including the magnificent dune system of Winterton Dunes.

Though there are minor instances where boundary features have changed or disappeared, the statutory boundary remains as originally designated. Review of AONB boundaries is under control of Natural England and is a process requiring approval by the Secretary of State. Natural England has no plans for a boundary review at present.

The designation helps to protect not just the natural features - the trees, fields and open spaces - but also settlements and working environments that are distinctive characteristics of the countryside. The designation allows for sustainable development (i.e. development that takes account of the requirements of environmental, economic and social sustainability), in ways that further enhance the character of the area.

A summary of the history of the designation of the Norfolk Coast as an AONB is available here; the full version, produced by the Countryside Agency in 2001 from archive material, is available through contact with the Norfolk Coast Partnership office.

Statutory purpose of designation

The statutory purpose of designating an area of land as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the area.

This comprises the area's distinctive landscape character, biodiversity and geodiversity, historic and cultural environment.

Two secondary non-statutory purposes of AONBs are also recognised:

  • To take account of the needs of agriculture, forestry, fishing and other local rural industries and of the economic and social needs of local communities, paying particular regard to promoting sustainable forms of social and economic development that in themselves conserve and enhance the area's natural beauty; and
  • To seek to meet the demand for recreation so far as this is consistent with the statutory purpose of conserving and enhancing the area's natural beauty - and which preferably supports this purpose by increasing understanding, valuation and care for the area - and is also consistent with the needs of rural industries.

Other AONBs

The Norfolk Coast AONB is one of a family of 46 in England and Wales that, together with our national parks, make up our finest scenic areas. Visit the National Association for AONB's web site to find out about the national family of AONB's.
AONBs are also part of a wider network of protected areas throughout Europe. Find out more about these by visiting the Europarc Atlantic Isles web site.