Natural England Conservation Advice for Marine Protected Areas
North Norfolk Coast 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: North Norfolk Coast SPA
Designation type: SPA
Site identification: UK9009031
Latest classification date: 01 January 1989
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): 7886.79
Component Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI):
Overlapping Protected Areas:

Last updated: 15th September 2017

Background information and geography

This SPA is located east of The Wash on the northern coastline of Norfolk, eastern England. The SPA covers 7886.79 ha and extends 40km from Holme to Weybourne and includes a great variety of coastal habitats; intertidal mudflats and sandflats, coastal waters, saltmarshes, shingle, sand dunes, freshwater grazing marshes and reedbeds.

The site is important within Europe as one of the largest areas of undeveloped coastal habitat of its type. It is the fourth most important wetland site for waterfowl in Britain. The site is particularly important for saltmarsh containing some of the best examples of this habitat type in Europe.

Other coastal habitats include extensive shingle deposits at Blakeney Point; major sand dunes at Scolt Head and extensive reedbeds at Brancaster, Cley and Titchwell and coastal grazing marsh also present at Cley. Freshwater grazing marsh is found all along the coast with that at Holkham notable for its network of clear dykes with a rich diversity of aquatic plant species.

The coastal waters along the North Norfolk Coast are shallow and follow the complex series of harbours and inlets along the coast. These support large populations of small fish including sand eel and sprat which provide vital food for breeding tern populations upon which breeding success depends. Terns use the vegetated and unvegetated shingle spits, bars and beaches for nesting.

The intertidal mud and sand flats support high densities of invertebrates important for breeding avocet and supporting high numbers of wading birds and wildfowl throughout the year. Additionally the remote nature of the habitats provides secure breeding sites for pink-footed geese (Anser brachyrhynchus) and dark-bellied brent geese (Branta bernicula bernicula).

The saltmarsh supports breeding populations of skylark and meadow pipit. These in turn support internationally important breeding populations of marsh harrier. A variety of saltmarsh invertebrates also support wading birds.

Large numbers of waterbirds use the site throughout the year. In summer the site and its surroundings is important for breeding populations of waders, four species of tern, bittern (Botarus stallaris) and wetland raptors including the marsh harrier (Circus aeruguinosus). In winter, the site becomes important for large numbers of geese, sea-ducks, other ducks and waders using the site for roosting and feeding. Some species, such as some wintering sea-ducks, feed in coastal waters outside but adjacent to the SPA. The site is of also important to migrating birds in the spring and autumn passage periods.

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: 13th March 2020

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: