Flooding at Cley, Babcock Hide © David North 1/2
Flooding across the road at Salthouse © David North 2/2

New report highlights climate risks to Norfolk Wildlife Trust nature reserves

Tuesday 26 July, 2022

A new national report published by The Wildlife Trusts shows that society must take fast action to adapt to the impacts of the climate crisis and be prepared to see nature and wild places change in order to survive.  


The Wildlife Trusts’ first climate risk assessment, Changing Nature, examines the impacts of the changing climate across nature reserves managed by Wildlife Trusts throughout the country, including Norfolk Wildlife Trust. It assesses the risks and looks ahead at what is needed to help nature adapt and survive in the future. The findings come at a time when the UK is already one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.  


The research finds that, by the 2050s, under a future warming trajectory that reaches 3°C warming by 2100: 


  • Half of The Wildlife Trusts’ nature reserves will have 30+ days of very high fire risk yearly 

  • Almost all reserves will see more than 1°C increase on hot summer days by 2050 

  • 55% of reserves will see nearby river flows drop by more than 30% during times of low flow  


Findings show how extreme weather is already affecting many Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserves, including: 


  • Flooding – sea level rise threatens freshwater habitats along our coastal reserves and freshwater habitats of the Broads through surge tides and saltwater ingress 

  • Droughts – many of our rarest freshwater habitats rely on a steady supply of groundwater and increasing pressures due to abstraction and lack of rainfall threaten these habitats 


The Wildlife Trusts want to see increased effort from governments, business, and other landowners on climate adaptation, including greater investment in nature-based solutions and a specific focus on resilience. 


Kevin Hart, Director of Conservation for Norfolk Wildlife Trust, said: 


“Here in Norfolk the changing climate is going to have a significant impact on the fortunes of our most vulnerable wildlife. If sea levels rise as predicted, our iconic Norfolk coast and Broads landscapes and the wildlife they support are under threat.  


“Knowing the predicted results of climate change in the UK it is crucial we act now to help wildlife gradually adapt to our changing climate to avoid catastrophic losses of critical habitats that support species including bittern, marsh harrier and water vole. 


“Norfolk Wildlife Trust is already taking action at our sites for example in partnership with the Environment Agency at Cley Marshes and Hickling Broad. By carefully increasing Cley’s short-term resilience to sea level rise at the coast we are buying wildlife time as we create replacement habitat further in land.” 


Kathryn Brown, Director of Climate Change and Evidence for The Wildlife Trusts, says: 


“Climate change is contributing more and more to nature’s decline with devastating consequences for people and wildlife. We are already stepping-up our efforts to restore habitats so that they benefit wildlife and are better able to store carbon. Our report also shows the range of actions we are taking to help nature adapt to climate change and what’s needed in the future – from further rewetting of peatlands to backing community-led rewilding projects. 


“The projected impact of climate change on our nature reserves is just the tip of the iceberg. We need people to join us in creating a new national vision for our landscapes because we can no longer focus only on restoring nature to a historical state; change is inevitable. 


“A concerted effort is required to create more space for nature everywhere, enabling natural ecosystems to function properly, creating habitats for wildlife, and building diversity and flexibility for the future.” 


Restoring nature at scale is the solution  


Norfolk Wildlife Trust is already providing innovative solutions to help wildlife adapt to the changing climate. 


Example 1: Cley and Salthouse Marshes lie within an area of Norfolk’s coastline designated for managed realignment. Norfolk Wildlife Trust is working with the Environment Agency to adapt on-site water management systems to protect freshwater habitats for as long as possible, buying time for wildlife to adapt and move. New wetlands are being built inland to compensate for the freshwater losses at Cley and Salthouse (see Example 2). 


Example 2:  In partnership with the Environment Agency, Norfolk Wildlife Trust is creating several inland freshwater wetland habitats as compensation for their eventual loss along the East Anglian coast. The realignment of flood defences at Hickling National Nature Reserve, for example, is restoring naturally functioning floodplain conditions on what was previously drained land. Replacing the previous species poor agricultural grassland with open water, fen and reedbed has created a vital new home for some of our most threatened species. 


Changing Nature, a report from The Wildlife Trusts can be downloaded here

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