The Norfolk Coast landscape
Landscape is the basis of designation for Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – but it’s much more than just a view. Each landscape you look at tells a story of how this particular place came to look as it does today, acted upon by influences from the very recent past to millions of years ago.
The landscapes of the Norfolk Coast are strongly influenced by the sea in most cases. But they are composed of, and enriched by, the combination of distinctive geological and geophysical features, characteristics and sometimes rare wildlife and habitats. The cultural characteristics such as archaeology, field patterns, building materials and settlement patterns are also an important influence on the landscapes.
Norfolk Coast’s National Character Areas
Natural England’s National Character Areas (NCAs) are defined by landscape, biodiversity, geodiversity, history, and cultural and economic activity. The three main NCAs relating to the Norfolk Coast are:
- NCA76 North West Norfolk
- NCA77 North Norfolk Coast
- NCA78 Central North Norfolk
Other NCAs covering small parts of the area are NCA46 The Fens; NCA79 North East Norfolk and Flegg; and NCA80 The Broads.
Integrated landscape character
The Integrated Landscape Character Guidance is for anyone who wants to understand more about the area’s landscapes and how they have developed. It can be used by anyone involved in managing change in the area – developers, planners, community groups etc. There are 16 types, and each is explained.
Use this landscape character types key map to find the landscape character type and read the detailed descriptions below. You can click on the colour block in the key to jump to guidance for that landscape character type.
Click on the colour swatch to find out more.
Intro section 1 – Scope of the study
Sets the scene and provides an overall introduction to the Norfolk Coast, why it is special and how it is managed. It goes on to explain what the Guidance is for and how it is intended to be used.
Intro section 2 – Overview of relevant data
Reviews the key data sets which are of relevance for the study, with cross references to key studies and documents which have informed this work and which might provide useful supplementary (and often more detailed) information.
Intro section 3 – Landscape character and pressures for change
Provides a broad overview of the distinctive landscape character of the landscape and an analysis of the ongoing forces for change which are likely to influence the character of the landscape. It includes generic guidelines for managing each of these forces for change, along with references for more detailed guidance and information and a checklist of key considerations to take into account when submitting or reviewing planning applications within the area.
Intro section 4 – Landscape Character Types
Presents the integrated landscape character assessment and guidance for each of the 16 landscape character types, accompanied by photographs and sketches which demonstrate how change can be managed within each landscape type. In many cases the sketches show what is meant by appropriate, innovative design.
Part 1 – Open Coastal Marshes
Intertidal marshes, dunes, mudflats and shingle of the North Norfolk Heritage Coast and eastern Wash.
Part 2 – Drained Coastal Marshes
Former intertidal marsh, now fresh marsh, grassland and arable land of the North Norfolk Heritage Coast and eastern Wash
Part 3 – Coastal Slopes
Transitional slopes between the coastal marshes and chalk ‘wolds’ of north west Norfolk
Part 4 – Wooded Slopes with Estate Land
Woodland and heath on the west-facing slopes above the eastern Wash
Part 5 – Rolling Open Farmland
Extensive areas of generally open farmland on the chalky soils of north west Norfolk
Part 6 – Plateau Farmland
Relatively flat, ‘upland’ farmland landscapes on the higher land of north west Norfolk
Part 7 – Rolling Heath and Arable
Extensive areas of heathland interspersed with sandy arable land on the Cromer Ridge between Blakeney, Kelling and Holt
Part 8 – Small Valleys
Intimate valley landscapes of the rivers Babingley, Heacham, Burn, Stiffkey and Mundesley.
Part 9 – Tributary Farmland
Extensive areas of open, gently rolling farmland on glacial soils around Morston and inland from the resorts of Sheringham, Cromer and Overstrand
Part 10 – Wooded with Parkland
Relatively well-wooded parkland landscapes of Holkham and the Cromer Ridge, with some remnants of former heathland
Part 11 – Coastal Plain
Low sandy cliffs, dunes and their open coastal hinterland south of Mundesley
Part 12 – Coastal Towns and Villages
Soft, easily eroded coastal cliffs and their hinterland, with well-developed resort towns and smaller villages, from Weybourne to Mundesley
Part 13 – Large Valleys
Relatively large, shallow valleys of the chalk rivers Stiffkey and Glaven with distinctive valley floor landscapes
Part 14 – Estuarine Marshland
Flat, low-lying open area of former estuary in the eastern outlier of the area, around Horsey and Somerton
Part 15 – Settled Farmland
Gently undulating open arable farmland around Somerton and Winterton in the eastern outlier
Part 16 – Dunes, Coastal Levels and Resorts
Coastal dune system at Winterton, part of a larger landscape character type extending southward
Norfolk Coast Habitats and Land Use
The Norfolk Biodiversity Information Service at Norfolk County Council has produced a series of maps of the Norfolk Coast area of outstanding natural beauty showing the distribution of habitats. You can download these maps below.
Natural England Status Report
As government’s adviser, Natural England’s purpose is “to ensure that the natural environment is conserved, enhanced and managed for the benefit of present and future generations”.
There are indications that the condition of the North Norfolk coast’s natural environment is declining through a number of increasing pressures. Natural England have undertaken this evidence-based review assessing the condition at the coastal landscape scale. This is a new and different approach from site-based monitoring.
There are indications that the condition of the North Norfolk Coast’s (NNC) natural environment is declining as a result of numerous pressures. The State of the North Norfolk Coast report has taken a holistic approach to assessing the condition of the coast’s natural environment, collating information on:
- Why people value the NNC? – including the results of a survey carried out to inform this report.
- The resources of the coast’s natural environment (Natural Capital) and the service and goods it provides (Ecosystem Services)
- The condition and risks to the coast’s natural environment, looking at key habitats, species, and assemblages.
- The drivers of change on the coast, looking at how issues are impacting on and degrading the coast’s natural environment.
Informed by Natural England’s current conservation strategy and Defra’s 25 year Plan for the Environment, this report is a step away from small site ‘unit’ based assessment of condition focused on protected features.
The NNC is one of the largest expanses of undeveloped coastal habitat of its type in Europe. It supports a wealth of wildlife of national and international importance reflected by the designation across 66% of the area as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Special Protection Area (SPA), and a Ramsar wetland of global significance. It is a remote, open and dynamic coastal landscape, with a long history of human management and settlement, which contribute to a special and culturally important landscape as recognised by being part of the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and North Norfolk Heritage Coast.
A small public survey was carried out by Natural England to support and inform this report. In the survey 97% of respondents said the coast was either important or very important to them, citing wildlife, scenic beauty, and remoteness and tranquillity as the qualities they most valued about the coast. Respondents strongly identified the wildlife of the NNC as important for the areas landscape, economy, and to a lesser extent culture.
The total area of the NNC, as defined in this report, is 6,244 hectares, and is based on the NNC National Character Area. The main feature covering 32% of the area is littoral sediment including saltmarsh, mudflat and saline lagoons. Freshwater habitats such as coastal floodplain and grazing marsh, and reedbeds cover 27% of the area. A further 15% is arable land and 13% is sand dunes and shingle. Semi-natural grassland makes up 5% of the area, woodlands 3%, and soft cliffs less than 1%. Outside of the boundary but included in the Natural Capital assessment in the report is a large marine area supporting reefs, sand banks and mudflats. All these habitats support a diversity of wildlife of national and international importance, including breeding and wintering bird assemblages, marine communities, Invertebrate assemblages, plant, lichen, and fungi assemblages.
The marine environment has lagged behind the land in terms of our knowledge of its habitats and the species they support. 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 area of outstanding natural beauty 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 http://wnnmp.co.uk/
There are also designated Marine Conservation Zones off the coast.