Natural England Conservation Advice for Marine Protected Areas
The Wash SPA

Natural England guidance

This site collection contains Natural England’s conservation advice for this site. It fulfils Natural England’s responsibility under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended), to give advice on how to further the conservation objectives for the site, identify the activities that are capable of affecting the qualifying features and the processes which they are dependent upon.

Natural England's conservation advice for this site is made up of a number of components. You will need to consider: Additional information for consideration:

Site information

Overarching site: The Wash and North Norfolk Coast EMS
Site name: The Wash SPA
Designation type: SPA
Site identification: UK9008021
Latest classification date: 01 March 1988
Qualifying features
(click to see site specific description):

General information on the site features:
You can find generic information on the qualifying species from the following websites: The generic information on the supporting habitats for the qualifying features is useful for understanding the qualifying features, and should be used in conjunction with the site specific information.
Designated area (ha): 62211.66
Component Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI):
Overlapping Protected Areas:

Last updated: 15th September 2017

Background information and geography

The Wash SPA is composed of tidal rivers, estuaries, lagoons, mud and sand flats and in the centre, deep channels surrounded by shallower waters. These areas predominantly consist of saltmarsh, intertidal banks of sand and mud, sandy and shingle beaches and subtidal sandy sediments. Shallow coastal waters support small fish which are preyed upon by tern species. Intertidal mud and sand flats support a variety of polychaete worms and bivalve molluscs including cockle and mussel beds which alongside algae provide rich foraging grounds for a number of bird species. These include the dark-bellied brent goose (Branta bernicla bernicla), oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus), common scoter (Melanitta nigra), sanderling (Calidris alba), gadwall (Calidris alba), curlew (Numenius arquata), pintail (Anas acuta), shelduck (Tadorna tadorna), dunlin (Calidris alpina alpina), knot (Calidris canutus), bar-tailed godwit (Limosa lapponica) and black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa islandica). Further inland saltmarsh provides important roosting habitat at the site for a number of bird species, including redshank, curlew, pintail and dunlin. Additionally, saltmarsh provides an important foraging habitat for the dark-bellied brent goose, wigeon (Anas penelope), pintail and dunlin. The latter of which also roosts alongside oystercatchers on arable fields. Bordering agricultural and pasture land provide foraging for pink footed goose and overspill foraging for curlew, oystercatcher, dunlin and black-tailed godwit during high tides. Some of the species roosting at the site require unrestricted views of the surrounding area and take advantage of bare ground and short vegetation to roost. These include redshank (Tringa totanus), grey plover (Pluvialis squatarola) and both black and bar-tailed godwit. Other species, such as common tern (Sterna hirundo), little tern (Sternula albifrons), sanderling and grey plover utilise the sandy, shingle and gravel beaches to roost. Wigeon roost at Wainfleet, Black Bout and Wolfreton Sands and pink footed goose can be found roosting at Freiston, Snettisham and Terrington. Roger or Toft Gat and Seal sands support roosting sanderling and pintail roost on the flats of the rivers Nene and Ouse.

The pursuit of traditional activities, including those of common rights, and those embraced by the Longshore Economy such as samphire gathering, bait digging and wildfowling is widely recognised by Natural England and the other relevant authorities as a particularly important aspect of the local cultural heritage and economy at this site. Such activities are generally seasonal in nature, localised in their occurrence, employ traditional methods and place a strong emphasis on the principles of sustainability. The Wells, Boston and King’s Lynn Advisory Groups’ understanding of the levels of these activities since Regulation 33 advice was published in 2000, is that they have had no adverse effect on the sites condition and that there is evidence that some activities, particularly reed cutting and mussel cultivation, can make a positive contribution to the favourable condition of the site. It is thus agreed that such activities, including all the Common Rights on the north Norfolk coast between Holme and Holkham, as currently and historically practiced under law relating to Commons and carried out using traditional methods, are compatible with the need to maintain condition of the site’s features.

As part of the development of the management scheme for the European marine site, the relevant authorities, advisory groups and local communities will need to continue to work together, to obtain a better shared understanding of the benefits and deficits of these activities as they change over time. This will provide an essential mechanism for determining whether fluctuations in these activities may have the potential to adversely affect the interest features of the site.

Site maps

Use the MAGIC website to see site maps, including habitats, species and other marine designations.

These maps are based on best available evidence, there are some caveats associated with the maps on MAGIC.

There are some instances where the feature, subfeature or supporting habitat name varies on MAGIC from the conservation advice. The alternative names are listed on

Conservation objectives

The site’s conservation objectives apply to the site and the individual species and/or assemblage of species for which the site has been classified (the "Qualifying features" listed above).

The objectives are to ensure that, subject to natural change, the integrity of the site is maintained or restored as appropriate, and that the site contributes to achieving the aims of the Wild Birds Directive, by maintaining or restoring:
  • the extent and distribution of the habitats of the qualifying features
  • the structure and function of the habitats of the qualifying features
  • the supporting processes on which the habitats of the qualifying features rely
  • the populations of each of the qualifying features
  • the distribution of qualifying features within the site

Qualifying features

Refer to the site information table above for the list of features within this site.

This should be read in conjunction with the accompanying supplementary advice section, which provides more detailed information to help achieve the objectives set out above, including which attributes should be maintained and which restored.

The conservation objectives apply under the Habitats Regulations, and must be considered during a Habitats Regulation Assessment, including an Appropriate Assessment.

The conservation objectives and accompanying supplementary advice provide a framework to inform the management and measures needed to conserve or restore the European site, and the prevention of deterioration and significant disturbance of its qualifying features.

Where the objectives are met, the site will be considered to show a high level of integrity, and to be contributing to achieving the aims of the Habitats Regulations.

Supplementary Advice on Conservation Objectives

See supplementary advice on conservation objectives for this site, which aim to describe the range of ecological attributes that are most likely to contribute to a site’s overall integrity.

Last updated: 13th September 2019

Advice on Operations

See the advice on operations for this site to view information on the sensitivity of features in this site to the pressures exerted by different activities.

Last updated: 13th March 2020

Advice on Seasonality

See the advice on seasonality for this site, to view the months in which each mobile feature occurs in this site.

Last updated: 20th March 2017

Feature Condition

In 2016, Natural England trialled and rolled out a new Marine Protected Area (MPA) condition assessment methodology that provides robust results and information on the condition of marine features designated within MPAs in England. With guidance from National teams and using all available evidence and condition monitoring data, Area Teams conduct these assessments following a standardised approach that assesses if the feature and sub feature conservation targets set for each MPA have been met.

To date, condition assessments have been completed for a number of features in a range of marine Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) by the National and Area Teams. Further marine habitat features in SACs and other MPAs will continue to be assessed in the future. The new method can now also be applied to complete habitat and species condition assessments for other MPAs in England, whilst still meeting the different processes in place to report on the results of condition of features in Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs). Different processes are currently in place to decide and report on the condition of non-marine habitat and species features of SACs.

The main part of the assessment process is directly undertaken and stored here on Natural England’s Designated Sites View. The details for the most recent assessments of this site can be found here.

Management measures

If you are carrying out an environmental assessment, planning an operation or assessing an operation or proposal, it is important to consult with the following organisations where applicable. To find out if any management measures, byelaws or other restrictions apply to your activity see the management measure page or you can use the following links for more information.

The Marine Management Organisation license, regulate and plan marine activities in the seas around England and Wales so that they’re carried out in a sustainable way.
Environment Agency are responsible for regulating major industry and waste, water quality and resources, fisheries, inland river, estuary and harbour navigations, conservation and ecology.
Offshore Petroleum Regulator for the Environment and Decommissioning (OPRED) regulates oil and gas, CCS and gas storage activities in the marine environment.

Further information

For further information relating to this designated site you can refer to the following resources:
Site specific information: Other information:
For further information about this site contact: Natural England enquiries Telephone: 0300 060 3900. Email: