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Special Areas of Conservation

The Wash and North Norfolk Coast

Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Country England
Unitary Authority East Anglia, Lincolnshire
Centroid* TF558403
Latitude 52.93694444
Longitude 0.318055556
SAC EU Code UK0017075
Status Designated Special Area of Conservation (SAC)
Area (ha) 107718
* This is the approximate central point of the SAC. In the case of large, linear or composite sites, this may not represent the location where a feature occurs within the SAC.
Location of The Wash and North Norfolk Coast SAC

General site character

  • Marine areas, Sea inlets (51%)
  • Tidal rivers, Estuaries, Mud flats, Sand flats, Lagoons (including saltwork basins) (46%)
  • Salt marshes, Salt pastures, Salt steppes (3%)

Download the Standard Data Form for this site (PDF <100kb)

Note When undertaking an appropriate assessment of impacts at a site, all features of European importance (both primary and non-primary) need to be considered.

Annex I habitats that are a primary reason for selection of this site

  • On this site sandy sediments occupy most of the subtidal area, resulting in one of the largest expanses of sublittoral sandbanks in the UK. It provides a representative example of this habitat type on the more sheltered east coast of England. The subtidal sandbanks vary in composition and include coarse sand through to mixed sediment at the mouth of the embayment. Sublittoral communities present include large dense beds of brittlestars Ophiothrix fragilis. Species include the sand-mason worm Lanice conchilega and the tellin Angulus tenuis. Benthic communities on sandflats in the deeper, central part of the Wash are particularly diverse. The subtidal sandbanks provide important nursery grounds for young commercial fish species, including plaice Pleuronectes platessa, cod Gadus morhua and sole Solea solea.

  • The Wash, on the east coast of England, is the second-largest area of intertidal flats in the UK. The sandflats in the embayment of the Wash include extensive fine sands and drying banks of coarse sand, and this diversity of substrates, coupled with variety in degree of exposure, means that there is a high diversity relative to other east coast sites. Sandy intertidal flats predominate, with some soft mudflats in the areas sheltered by barrier beaches and islands along the north Norfolk coast. The biota includes large numbers of polychaetes, bivalves and crustaceans. Salinity ranges from that of the open coast in most of the area (supporting rich invertebrate communities) to estuarine close to the rivers. Smaller, sheltered and diverse areas of intertidal sediment, with a rich variety of communities, including some eelgrass Zostera spp. beds and large shallow pools, are protected by the north Norfolk barrier islands and sand spits.

  • The Wash is the largest embayment in the UK, and represents Large shallow inlets and bays on the east coast of England. It is connected via sediment transfer systems to the north Norfolk coast. Together, the Wash and North Norfolk Coast form one of the most important marine areas in the UK and European North Sea coast, and include extensive areas of varying, but predominantly sandy, sediments subject to a range of conditions. Communities in the intertidal include those characterised by large numbers of polychaetes, bivalve and crustaceans. Sublittoral communities cover a diverse range from the shallow to the deeper parts of the embayments and include dense brittlestar beds and areas of an abundant reef-building worm (‘ross worm’) Sabellaria spinulosa. The embayment supports a variety of mobile species, including a range of fish and 1365 Common seal Phoca vitulina.

  • 1170 Reefs

    The Wash is the largest embayment in the UK with extensive areas of subtidal mixed sediment. In the tide-swept approaches to the Wash, with a high loading of suspended sand, the relatively common tube-dwelling polychaete worm Sabellaria spinulosa forms areas of biogenic reef. These structures are varied in nature, and include reefs which stand up to 30 cm proud of the seabed and which extend for hundreds of metres (Foster-Smith & Sotheran 1999). The reefs are thought to extend into The Wash where super-abundant S. spinulosa occurs and where reef-like structures such as concretions and crusts have been recorded. The site and its surrounding waters is considered particularly important as it is the only currently known location of well-developed stable Sabellaria reef in the UK. The reefs are particularly important components of the sublittoral as they are diverse and productive habitats which support many associated species (including epibenthos and crevice fauna) that would not otherwise be found in predominantly sedimentary areas. As such, the fauna is quite distinct from other biotopes found in the site. Associated motile species include large numbers of polychaetes, mysid shrimps, the pink shrimp Pandalus montagui, and crabs. S. spinulosa is considered to be an important food source for the commercially important pink shrimp P. montagui (see overview in Holt et al. 1998).

  • The largest single area of this vegetation in the UK occurs at this site on the east coast of England, which is one of the few areas in the UK where saltmarshes are generally accreting. The proportion of the total saltmarsh vegetation represented by Salicornia and other annuals colonising mud and sand is high because of the extensive enclosure of marsh in this site. The vegetation is also unusual in that it forms a pioneer community with common cord-grass Spartina anglica in which it is an equal component. The inter-relationship with other habitats is significant, forming a transition to important dune, saltmeadow and halophytic scrub communities.

  • This site on the east coast of England is selected both for the extensive ungrazed saltmarshes of the North Norfolk Coast and for the contrasting, traditionally grazed saltmarshes around the Wash. The Wash saltmarshes represent the largest single area of the habitat type in the UK. The Atlantic salt meadows form part of a sequence of vegetation types that are unparalleled among coastal sites in the UK for their diversity and are amongst the most important in Europe. Saltmarsh swards dominated by sea-lavenders Limonium spp. are particularly well-represented on this site. In addition to typical lower and middle saltmarsh communities, in North Norfolk there are transitions from upper marsh to freshwater reedswamp, sand dunes, shingle beaches and mud/sandflats.

  • The Wash and North Norfolk Coast, together with the North Norfolk Coast, comprises the only area in the UK where all the more typically Mediterranean species that characterise Mediterranean and thermo-Atlantic halophilous scrubs occur together. The vegetation is dominated by a shrubby cover up to 40 cm high of scattered bushes of shrubby sea-blite Suaeda vera and sea-purslane Atriplex portulacoides, with a patchy cover of herbaceous plants and bryophytes. This scrub vegetation often forms an important feature of the upper saltmarshes, and extensive examples occur where the drift-line slopes gradually and provides a transition to dune, shingle or reclaimed sections of the coast. At a number of locations on this coast perennial glasswort Sarcocornia perennis forms an open mosaic with other species at the lower limit of the sea-purslane community.

Annex I habitats present as a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for selection of this site

Annex II species that are a primary reason for selection of this site

  • 1365 Harbour seal Phoca vitulina

    The Wash, on the east coast of England, is the largest embayment in the UK. The extensive intertidal flats here and on the North Norfolk Coast provide ideal conditions for Harbour seal Phoca vitulina breeding and hauling-out. This site is the largest colony of common seals in the UK, with some 7% of the total UK population.

Annex II species present as a qualifying feature, but not a primary reason for site selection

Many designated sites are on private land: the listing of a site in these pages does not imply any right of public access.