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Pioneering audit to protect Norfolk coastal habitats

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More than 60 regional experts, organisations and landowners have combined their knowledge and resources to create the first comprehensive 'biodiversity audit' of the many thousands of wildlife species across West and North Norfolk’s iconic coastal habitats, to help guide decisions about how to manage, protect and expand them in the future.

The audit has been developed in an exciting and innovative collaboration between the University of East Anglia, the Norfolk Coast Partnership (NCP) and the North Norfolk Coastal Group (NNCG) – a consortium of farmers, landowners, conservationists, environmentalists, government agencies and local authorities.

Many of the habitats within the audit’s area, which stretches for 105 kilometres from the Wash in West Norfolk to the cliffs of East Norfolk, are protected for their national and internationally recognised wildlife.

Some of the UK’s most threatened wetland wildlife, including avocets, are located near Hunstanton, RSPB Titchwell Marsh. (49893472)
Some of the UK’s most threatened wetland wildlife, including avocets, are located near Hunstanton, RSPB Titchwell Marsh. (49893472)

However, whilst the willingness to protect and enhance these habitats and to support the species within them is strong, land managers need more information, guidance and evidence that will help with decision-making now and in the future.

David Lyles, chair of the NNCG says: “In any form of management identifying the assets is key. The UEA team have done this admirably, as well as identifying management practices that will enhance and enable continued biodiversity along this coastal area.”

Of vital importance is the audit’s comprehensive methodology, which includes the full spectrum of species inhabiting the area. More than one million biological records of over ten thousand species are combined with other ecological datasets and knowledge gleaned from dozens of regional natural history experts and managers.

Little plover
Little plover

Among the variety of habitats are some of the largest areas of salt marsh in the country, sand dunes, freshwater grazing marshes and wetlands, that have the potential to play a significant role in climate mitigation. The area is home to more than 1,200 priority species – birds, mammals, invertebrates and plants – in many cases, more than other comparable habitats across England and Wales.

Although much of nature conservation is evidence-based, typically this is restricted to large and charismatic species – particularly birds. Plants and invertebrates are often overlooked when planning conservation action, yet they make up 77% of all the wildlife species on the North Norfolk Coast, so it is vital to include them in plans for wider nature recovery.

Andrew Jamieson, chair of the NCP which co-financed the audit, says: “By taking the initiative and collaborating on this ground-breaking project the North Norfolk Coastal Group is looking to lead the way with a locally generated landscape-scale program to deliver nature recovery.”

Professor Paul Dolman, part of the UEA team, says: “This work has been ground-breaking, not just because it is the first time anyone has fully quantified the important wildlife of this amazing landscape and identified what it needs, but crucially by working with land managers throughout the study we were able to develop a plan of how to expand and enhance nature along the coast.”

Relatively small changes such as changing the management of drainage ditches, or more dramatic ones, like transforming low-lying arable to new grazing marsh and areas at risk of saltwater flooding into new salt marsh, will provide more space for many species, even as coastal habitats are squeezed by sea level rises.

Further contributing organisations to the audit include Norfolk Wildlife Trust, National Trust, Norfolk Rivers Trust, Norfolk Ornithological Association (NOA) and the RSPB.

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