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The marine environment

- connecting land and sea

View from Barrow Common

View from Barrow Common

The area designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty extends down to the mean low water mark - the limit of planning authority for terrestrial planning authorities. But the North Norfolk Heritage Coast has no formal seaward boundary, and there are many links between the area's natural beauty and the marine environment.

There is an obvious visual link in a coastal area; views out to sea, along the coast, or from sea to land (now becoming known as 'seascapes') are clearly part of what makes the area special to people.

There are also ecological links, for example the beach-nesting terns or seals breeding and resting on local beaches that rely on the sea for their food.

Cultural links also matter - for example, the local fishing industry plays an important part in the area's distinctive character.

Europarc Atlantic Isles has produced a 'manifesto for seascapes', endorsed by several other groups, that explains and promotes the importance of seascapes, particularly for protected landscapes such as AONBs and national parks.

Marine designations

The marine environment has lagged behind the land in terms of our knowledge of its habitats and the species they support - not surprisingly given the difficulties of surveying in the sea. But it's now becoming clear that the marine areas offshore from the Norfolk Coast are as important in their own ways as the AONB itself.

The first area to be recognised in this way was the Wash and North Norfolk Coast European Marine Site, which was protected in 2001 for its significance in a European context. This very large area covers the Wash and extends along the Norfolk coast to Weybourne, overlapping with the AONB designation in the intertidal area. It combines Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special protection Areas (SPAs) under European Union legislation, and is part of the 'Natura 2000' network of European sites for nature conservation. Find out more about the Wash and Norfolk Coast European Marine Site at

Additional Marine Special Areas of Conservation offshore from the Norfolk coast are now being considered for designation and protection - Haisborough Hammond and Winterton (off the east coast), and Inner Dowsing, Race Bank and North Ridge (off the north coast).

For information on Goverment marine policy go to

In addition, arising from national legislation, further areas are being considered for the status of Marine Conservation Zones. These are intended to provide models of sustainable marine development and management, where activities can continue while protecting marine habitats and species. In this part of the North Sea, the process to identify suitable areas was called Netgain, which produced a final recommendation report in September 2011. This included proposed 'Reference Areas', some of which were in the intertidal zone between Holme and Salthouse, as well as marine areas recommended for designation as Marine Conservation Zones.

Advice from Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee to Government broadly supported recommendations for Marine Conservation Zones from the regional projects, but said that further work was needed on reference areas.

The public consultation period finished 31 March 2013. Several MCZs are recommended off the Norfolk Coast, including the Cromer Chalk Reef, but not in the first tranch to be designated in 2013.

See the consultation documents.

North Norfolk chalk reef

Recently, it has been discovered that the chalk seen in places on land in the AONB, and on the beach at West Runton, is also exposed below low water in a large area offshore from Cley to Trimingham. This is much larger than previously realised, with gullies and arches, and is of significant geological as well as biodiversity interest. You can find out more about the chalk reef from the Seasearch East web site.