Nearly half of the coast’s nature and landscape is at high risk, and most of the rest at growing risk, due to climate change, says report
A new study underlines the incredible variety and value of the coastal landscape – and reveals the shocking level of risk which the area faces, especially due to climate change and sea level rise.
The ‘compendium’ of natural capital, which links Norfolk and Suffolk’s nature, looks at the natural assets of the Norfolk Coast and maps risks to them. Of 20 natural assets – for example food producing land, ground and surface water, natural habitats like reedbeds, and priority species – nearly half (nine) are assessed as at high risk.
Of the other half, nearly all (eight) are at growing risk. Just two natural assets of the coast are at medium risk, and one at decreasing risk – and these are where actions are being taken to manage the situation, for example by better controls on the over-application of agricultural chemicals.
The report, commissioned by the Norfolk Coast Partnership, points out the high risks to farmland as well as the natural areas for which the area is famed: “Across England, priority habitats cover just under 11% of land area but the Norfolk Coast area of outstanding natural beauty has 14,550 hectares or 32% of its area. Coastal saltmarsh, wetlands and grazing marsh and deciduous woodland habitats are regionally important. They are at high risk due to climate change, loss of habitat due to sea level rise, coastal erosion, flooding, increased incidence of pests and diseases, invasive species and urbanisation. Peat areas are also at high risk of drying out.”
To food producing land there is “growing risk from limited water availability and risks to productivity from climate change, poor management impacting soils and biodiversity; and diffuse pollution impacting surface and groundwater. There is some potential for new crop types due to climate change.”
The report is one part of an analysis of natural capital across Norfolk and Suffolk which will be used to inform a plan for the environment. The full report is available at nbis.org.uk
Study maps biodiversity for the first time
Thanks to its position as the cradle of nature conservation, the Norfolk Coast is one of the best studied areas in the UK for biodiversity. We know a lot already, but a partnership of land managers and scientists are finding out more with a major study to catalogue every species.
Scientists at the University of East Anglia are leading the work. Dr James Gilroy said: “This is arguably one of the
best protected landscapes in the UK, but at the same time is a part of the world that faces a lot of challenges. We aim to pull together all the knowledge and resource in order to take decisions about how to manage and conserve. The vast majority of species are the small ones – invertebrates and plants.”
“The audit aims to make sure that the ‘off radar biodiversity’ is not being left behind – we need to deliver for everything – to understand what it all needs.”
Working with the wildlife recorders and experts of NBIS, the Norfolk Biodiversity Information Service, project funders include the Norfolk Coast Partnership, Natural England, Norfolk County Council, the Broads Authority and a group of farmers – the North Norfolk Coastal Group represents 145 km of coastline, 45,000 ha of land, with 37 stakeholders – private individuals, and environmental bodies. The National Trust, Norfolk Wildlife Trust, RSPB, Norfolk Ornithologists Association and Natural England. The project is co-ordinated by Norfolk Coast Partnership and Norfolk County Council and chaired by David Lyles of Muckleton Farms.
The project at present covers around half of the area of outstanding natural beauty, and does not focus on the marine environment beyond the intertidal zone, but it is planned to address this with a staged approach.
The early results show from the sheer number of priority invertebrate species identified how important the region is for biodiversity; and what kind of habitats they need – which can be surprising, for example bare ground, or decaying wood.
Conservation insights will be developed with analysis once all the data is validated. The project will group priority species into specific management ‘guilds’; this will ultimately allow clear evidence-based management recommendations to cater for each species group.
Norfolk Coast biodiversity audit – first results
4,956,942 individual records (reports of species) – 13,865 unique species
Species group Number of species
Reptiles & Amphibians 16
The majority of species in the area (8,083, 56% of total) are invertebrates An incredible 1,254 of these 7,583 invertebrates have a ‘priority’ conservation status in the UK – and this total will increase as more species are added and plants and vertebrates are included. Beetles (25%), moths (19%) and true flies (14%) make up the largest proportion of our invertebrate species.