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Coastal Grazing Marsh and Reedbeds – Norfolk Coast Habitat Information

Characteristic species


  • Avocet
  • Wigeon
  • Bearded tit
  • Reed bunting
  • Kingfisher
  • Marsh harrier
  • Water voles
  • Bittern (summer)
  • Brent geese (winter)
  • Pink footed geese (winter)
  • White fronted geese (winter)


  • Spiral tasselweed
  • Crowfoot (in brackish water)

    Habitat description

    The wet grazing marsh of the north Norfolk coast is the result of saltmarsh being reclaimed, mostly between the 17th century and the end of the 19th century, by the building of embankments to prevent incursion by seawater.

    The characteristic habitats of the grazing marshes are the grasslands, maintained by seasonal grazing, which are either semi-improved or unimproved. Their value is considerably enhanced by high water levels during winter and early spring which gradually drop during the summer.

    They are crossed by systems of drainage ditches which are either fresh or brackish. There are also reed beds which may be extensive or largely confined to ditch sides.

    During the summer months the small pools of water on the marsh are frequented by redshank, lapwing, avocet, teal and sometimes snipe. They are the hunting ground of marsh harriers and, during winter, merlins, peregrines, hen harriers and rough-legged buzzards.

    In winter the marshes are frequented by large flocks of geese including brent, pink-foot and white-fronts. The flooded marshes also provide winter feeding grounds for very large numbers of duck, notably wigeon.

    The less improved grazing marshes are coloured with the sulphur-yellow flowers of hairy buttercup; other plants of note include strawberry clover and marsh club-rush.

    The reed beds, composed mainly of Norfolk reed (Phragmites) are of critical importance as nesting habitat for bitterns, marsh harriers, bearded tits and hold populations of characteristic species such as reed bunting, reed warbler and sedge warbler.

    The ditches which are used to drain them are important for scarce wetland plants and provide a home to water voles, otters and kingfishers.

    Where can I find this habitat?

    The best places to see coastal grazing marshes and reedbeds and their characteristic wildlife without causing disturbance are at RSPB Titchwell Marsh reserve, Holkham National Nature Reserve and Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Cley Marshes reserve.

    These habitats are also found at Holme, Brancaster, Burnham Norton, Burnham Overy and Blakeney Freshes.

    How is this habitat managed?

    Coastal grazing marshes are seasonally grazed by stock, usually cows or horses. Water levels are managed via sluices and drainage systems to keep them wet or to drain excess water creating optimal conditions for many wintering and breeding birds.

    Reed-beds have developed through grazing and cutting and today their preservation depends on active management. Reed beds on nature reserves and private land are cut on a rotation to remove biomass and prevent succession to scrub. Good quality reed is still used for thatching.

    Cromer Pier

    Further information

    Norfolk Coast Integrated Landscape Guidance – Drained Coastal Marshes

    This document from the Norfolk Coast Partnership contains details about the drained coastal marsh landscape in the Norfolk Coast.

    Download Integrated Landscape Guidance – Drained Coastal Marshes >

    Natural England National Character Area Profile – 77 North Norfolk Coast

    This document, produced by Natural England, contains further detail about the Norfolk Coast landscape.

    Access Natural England National Character Area Profile – 77 North Norfolk Coast >

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