Coastline & Estuary: supporting countless forms of life.
OF ALL NORFOLK'S BEST KNOW NATURAL AREAS, the coastline takes the plaudits and adulation as being the most precious. Jutting out into ancient bird migration paths, it is an international Mecca for many thousands of bird watchers every year, accommodating two fertile estuaries that offer a fecundity of precious energy in the forms of lugworms and shellfish for exhausted avian travellers.

The marine influence softens the climate and is responsible for the constantly-morphing sequences of sandbanks, dunes, shingle cliffs and precious salt marsh that contribute to this special area. The stretch of coastal marsh reaching from Holme to Weybourne is one of the finest in Western Europe, complemented with the extreme biological and geomorphological interest of the barrier island of Scolt Head and the outstanding shingle spit that is Blakeney Point. These two areas hold vital breeding territory for such diverse fauna as the elegant tern, recorded here as nesting species since 1830, and the grey seal, whose rookery has steadily increased in number over recent years.  
A late summer storm develops far out to sea.
Between these muddy, saline smorgasbords lays an Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty containing some of the finest beaches in the U.K., Holkham Bay proving a particularly fine example, boasting seemingly endless acres of white sand at low tide; on a winters day it is one of the best places in the country to find the handsome snow bunting, feeding on seeds washed up by the frothing North Sea brine. 

Grazing marsh and sand dunes proliferate here too, giving way to tidal salt marshes riddled with silted, winding creeks that are unique in Britain; they join forces to provide a natural beach barrier system, tightly wedged behind the sand and shingle bars formed by the sea and man's villages and arable fields to the south. It is on these marshes that speedy wintering raptors, the merlin and peregrine falcon, chase down tired and hungry waders or the elusive short-eared owl makes the most of vole gluts amongst the rough grass of the reclaimed pastures.   

At dawn, a late summer storm develops far out to sea, vying with the rising sun for supremacy over the briny landscape. The momentary golden hues are soon washed away by lashing rain and high winds.
Wading birds roost during an ebbing tide on The Wash estuary.
The Norfolk coastline is not only an outstanding area of importance to the wildlife of the county itself, but also vitally important nationally and internationally. Stretching between estuaries, the Wash, a European Marine Site, in the west, and Breydon Water, a Special Protection Area, to the east, it is a place to find a bewildering array of plants and animals that make a living from it; for some it is a permanent home, and for others a temporary stop-off for refuelling as part of a migratory journey; or summer breeding residence that suits a particular need or requirement. Anyone who has visited either of the estuaries during autumn will have found it difficult not to notice the staggering number of birds feeding out on the mudflats, and may have been fortunate enough to witness the spectacular wheeling displays of roosting waders at high tide, more reminiscent of shoaling fish than birds, particularly the 90,000 knot that make annual use of the Wash during September.
During an ebbing tide wading birds roost, waiting for the sea to recede. Most birdwatchers reach their peak of excitement when the flowing tide is at its fullest, causing the birds to flock together, often in huge numbers.


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Text and photography © James Williamson |
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