Chalk reef, Norfolk's Living Seas, photo by Rob Spray 1/3
Chalk reef, Norfolk's Living Seas, photo by Rob Spray 2/3
Tompot Blenny, photo by Rob Spray 3/3

Living Seas

As well as NWT’s Living Landscape projects, we are also working alongside other Wildlife Trusts on a nationwide Living Seas campaign. As an island nation, the UK’s seas and their marine life form an integral part of our heritage and exert a strong influence on our national identity.
On the Norfolk coast, the North Sea is a constant companion, sometimes serene and benign, at other moments a fierce threat to homes and livelihoods. At all times though the sea has been inextricably bound with the county’s history: from the importance of King’s Lynn as a Hanseatic trading port, to the heroic Horatio Nelson, and later to the importance of Great Yarmouth’s now-vanished herring industry.

Today, the sea plays an important cultural and leisure role in the county. Norfolk’s seas are a vital draw for tourists and a great leisure resource for residents of the county. Thousands of visitors enjoy taking boat trips to see the grey and common seals that occur in internationally important numbers around the county, while large numbers of birdwatchers spend huge amounts of time scanning through the flocks of sea ducks – eiders and scoters – that winter off the coast, or the pelagic seabirds that pass close to our coastline in suitably windy weather.
Economically the sea is still important too. For instance, new offshore windfarm developments have sprung up off Great Yarmouth and Wells, while commercial fishing still plays an important role in coastal life – the Cromer crab, for instance, is justifiably famous around the world.
Yet, these very same opportunities also threaten the life teeming under the murky North Sea waters. Our seas, and their precious resources, require support and protection from our elected officials, to ensure that our unique marine habitats and wildlife can thrive, from their offshore depths right into the coastal shallows.

NWT envisages and strives for Living Seas in which:
  • Marine wildlife and habitats are recovering from past declines as our use of the seas’ resources becomes environmentally sustainable.
  • The natural environment is adapting well to a changing climate, with ocean processes helping to slow down climate change.
  • People are inspired by marine wildlife and value the sea for the many ways in which it supports our quality of life.
Research from around the world shows now is a critical moment for marine conservation, with extinction rates at an all-time high. Key scientists have published a report recommending the creation of MPAs for restoring and protecting significantly damaged marine ecosystems.

As a result, a century on from the Wildlife Trusts’ groundbreaking Rothschild list of 284 wildlife sites round the UK deemed ‘worthy of protection’, the first national network of potential marine protected areas (MPAs) was identified and recommended to the Government for protection: a list of 127 Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), located in English and offshore Welsh waters.

Based on the best possible scientific evidence, and after consultation with more than a million stakeholders, recommendations were initially put forward in 2011, with their designation originally expected in 2012. However, the Government stalled, and following a consultation in 2013, just 27 sites were designated, with lack of evidence and cost concerns given as reasons for not proceeding.

However, a further 23 sites were designated at the start of 2016, bringing us up to 50 MCZs in English and waters. 

Finally, in June 2018 the Government announced its ambition to create 41 more conservation zones in the seas around England and a consultation took place asking the public to share views on these new sites. The Wildlife Trusts launched the Wave of Support campaign to encourage people to have their say and received over 22,000 responses calling for better protection of our seas!

The result of this action by The Wildlife Trusts and others has been the designation of a third round of Marine Conservation Zones in 2019 consisting of 39 MCZs in English waters and further 2 sites designated in Northern Ireland.

Taken together this network of MCZs around the UK will go a long way in helping to protect and conserve important marine habitats and wildlife for the future.  However, we need to make sure that these sites are managed correctly, to give our ocean wildlife the best possible chance of recovery.

What is a Marine Conservation Zone?

A Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) is an area of sea where highly damaging activities are prevented or managed in order to keep marine ecosystems in a healthy state.

Highly damaging activities, such as bottom trawling and scallop dredging, will be more controlled. Less damaging fishing methods, such as potting and hand diving for scallops, will be unaffected as long as they are not at such a high level that they have an environmental impact.


What do MCZs actually protect?

MCZs will protect areas that are important for conservation, such vulnerable or rare habitats and species. Things like seahorses in seagrass meadows, or fragile mussel beds. All MCZs specifically aim to protect specific habitats and species.


Can I still swim in an MCZ?

If a site becomes a MCZ, it does not mean all activities will be banned in the area. You’d still be able to swim, walk your dog, go angling, all those things. It just means that highly damaging activities are prevented or managed.

Is it just fishing that’s restricted within MCZs?

Our seas are becoming an increasingly busy place, with wind farms, oil and gas extraction, aggregate dredging and so on. By creating MCZs, we are ensuring that all of these growing pressures won’t cause excessive and irreversible damage to our marine environment.

Why do we need MCZs in the North Sea?

The North Sea waters have drastically changed. Hundreds of years of intense fishing, along with port developments, boat traffic, and offshore construction have greatly changed the way our seas function.

In the 1930’s fishermen could catch ginormous blue fin tuna off the Scarborough coast, and huge skates, turbot and cod were all landed by the bucket load in ports all over then east coast. Many of these fisheries are a shadow of their former selves as we have simply fished for too long, at too an intense level. The effects of overfishing, coupled with offshore construction, aggregate dredging and pollution, we have inadvertently changed the ways are sea function.

What are the benefits of creating MCZs?

Creating marine conservation zones will benefit all of society.

For fisheries to be sustainable, key areas of their habitat need to be protected. Places where fish congregate to spawn, places where young fish shelter and grow to old age and larger sizes.

Economies will also benefit through continued or increased tourism. You might not know, but you can go out on a boat from Yorkshire or Northumberland and come face to face with whales, porpoise and dolphins and hundreds of species of seabird. These animals are here because they feed and reproduce in our waters. So it makes sense to protect them.

And not only that, society as whole will benefit from all the services marine ecosystems provide. Services such as water filtration and quality, coastal protection, flood protection, carbon storage, climate regulation and air quality. All these are controlled by the sea, and protecting it will help ensure the oceans keep sustaining our way of life.


Will creating MCZs cost us anything?

All costs, if any, are short-term. Tax payers money fund the consultation process, data collection and data analysis. Also, creating MCZs will likely prevent the most damaging fishing methods occurring within their boundaries, meaning some fishermen won’t be able to fish in these sites.

Then again, the benefits far outweigh the costs. Healthy marine ecosystems and seafloors benefit fisheries by providing nursery grounds and spawning grounds for fish. Also, protecting the sea helps restore marine ecosystems, which means they can keep protecting our coasts, and regulating our water, air and climate.

If anything, we can’t afford not to create MCZs. The future of marine conservation and our marine industry depend on them.


Do they have any opposition?

The consultation process was very thorough. It was done in such a way that everyone had a voice. Fishermen, port developers, scientists and the public, all agreed that these specific rMCZs in these specific locations should be created in order to conserve our marine wildlife.
Let’s be honest, the sea off Norfolk’s coast usually looks rather grey and uninviting. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine there’s very much happening below the surface. However, if you are thinking this – and we can’t blame you – you’d be very wrong.

Located just 200 metres from the Norfolk coast is the start of a hugely impressive chalk reef, ranging from 0-20 metres in depth. This unique reef comprises boulders, stacks and arches and is likely to be Europe’s largest chalk reef – running for 30km from Cley to Trimingham. Alongside chalk, the seabed is composed of a mixture of rock, sediment, peat and clay. At certain places during low tide, such as West Runton, exposed chalk can be clearly seen, hinting at the wider chalk treasure lying a little further offshore.
Norfolk’s chalk reef started to be formed around 100 million years ago, in the Cretaceous period. The Earth then was very different, and the warm waters were home to huge populations of minute, floating algae. This phytoplankton harvested carbon from the atmosphere and shed it as tiny plates (called coccoliths). These built up over millions of years into a thick layer of chalk. Not only did this lead to the creation of the reef, but the huge amount of carbon that was captured and locked away resulted in the (sometimes!) comfortable climate we now have.
Today, through the efforts of researchers such as Seasearch East, we are just beginning to learn about geography of the reef, and the huge variety of marine life that makes a home around its chalk arches and stacks. Indeed, a mysterious type of purple Hymedesmia sponge discovered in the summer of 2011 has now been confirmed as a species entirely new to science. Many more interesting discoveries are sure to follow.

To find out more about the reef and its amazing, colourful marine life, click here to download our PDF book (3 MB).
So, what can you do to help Norfolk’s Living Seas? One of the most important things is to simply get out to the coast and explore the county’s fantastic marine environment, learn more about its wildlife and, above all, have fun!

Each year during July and August, the Wildlife Trusts celebrate the UK's amazing sea animals and plants during National Marine Week (even though we call it National Marine Week, it’s actually so good we make it last a fortnight!). This is your chance to explore the seashore, discover dunes and wade among whelks – however you don't have to wait for National Marine Week, as NWT runs a number of coastal events throughout the year.

There are also several other steps you can take which will have a positive impact on our Living Seas:
  • Join Norfolk Wildlife Trust. Becoming a member will help support our work, and will add your voice when we campaign for better marine conservation.
  • Join the Wildlife Trusts’ SOS (Save our Seas) team, our online campaigners’ network, to find out how you can support and take part in our marine campaigns.
  • Report your sightings of marine life such as dolphins and porpoises.
  • Share Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s vision. Tell your friends, family and colleagues about Living Seas, and ask them to help us too.
  • Use environmentally friendly detergents.
  • Where possible, avoid toxic chemicals in your home and garden.
  • Reduce, recycle and reuse as much as possible, and dispose of rubbish carefully including taking old engine oil to a recycling centre.
  • Buy seasonal and locally caught fish if possible, and avoid deepwater fish such as the orange roughy. Look out for fish that carries the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) blue certified seafood label, which supports sustainable fisheries.
  • Don’t buy ornaments or jewellery made from marine creatures.
  • Ensure any creatures you buy for marine aquaria are bred in captivity.
  • Volunteer for NWT. Occasionally we may run marine projects that need your help.
With your help, Norfolk’s seas and the wealth of marine life that inhabits them will continue to thrive.

Living Seas News

2021-06-25 Discover seaside soap operas d Discover seaside soap operas during National Marine Week
Friday 25 June, 2021
Staycations mean more of us are set to discover the delights of our shores and coastal waters, as we visit the seasid...
2020-06-08 World Oceans Day call for High World Oceans Day call for Highly Protected Marine Areas 
Monday 08 June, 2020
The Wildlife Trusts call for an ambitious delivery plan for Highly Protected Marine Areas within a year, backing reco...
2019-07-23 Make the most of the coast in Make the most of the coast in National Marine Week
Tuesday 23 July, 2019
Dip your toes in to the wild world of marine wildlife with Norfolk Wildlife Trust during National Marine Week: 27 Jul...
2019-07-09 Shoals of visitors to take ove Shoals of visitors to take over Cley Beach for Ocean Commotion
Tuesday 09 July, 2019
Norfolk Wildlife Trust is delighted that Ben Garrod: ambassador, UEA professor and BBC broadcaster, will be making wa...
2019-06-26 June blooms display meadow cre June blooms display meadow creation success
Wednesday 26 June, 2019
On a fine sunny evening in June, trustees and local landowners joined Norfolk Wildlife Trust Conservation Officer, He...
2019-05-31 New wave of protection for the New wave of protection for the sea announced today
Friday 31 May, 2019
Today Norfolk Wildlife Trust welcomes the news that the Government is designating a third phase of 41 new Marine Cons...
2018-08-06 Sand Drawing Extravaganza! Sand Drawing Extravaganza!
Monday 06 August, 2018
Norfolk Wildlife Trust was on Cromer beach at the weekend creating sand drawings around a huge map of the British Isl...
2018-07-25 Songs, Scales and studies at C Songs, Scales and studies at Cley this summer
Wednesday 25 July, 2018
Don’t miss Cley Calling Summer Spirit next week - Thursday 2nd till Sunday 5th August – with unusual ways...
2018-06-27 Summer Spirit as Cley calls to Summer Spirit as Cley calls to art and nature lovers
Wednesday 27 June, 2018
Just five weeks until our long summer weekend of wildlife and creativity at Cley! Thursday 2nd till Sunday 5th August...
2018-06-08 Battle to protect wildlife at Battle to protect wildlife at sea receives boost today
Friday 08 June, 2018
Norfolk Wildlife Trust welcomes possibility of 41 new Marine Conservation Zones Today the government has launched a ...
2018-03-05  Mass marine death along North Mass marine death along North Sea coast
Monday 05 March, 2018
Tens of thousands of marine animals have been washed up along the UK’s east coast following the cold temperatur...
2017-12-05 Cley Calling celebrates Norfol Cley Calling celebrates Norfolk’s starry skies this weekend
Tuesday 05 December, 2017
Do you know your mallard from your gadwall? Do you fancy a spot of frosty storytelling with a glass of mulled wine? Y...
2017-10-25 New report urges Government to New report urges Government to tackle five challenges simultaneously
Wednesday 25 October, 2017
Today The Wildlife Trusts publish a new report that sets a vision for our marine environment post Brexit. It identifi...
2017-09-20 Cley Calling – Autumn Colours Cley Calling – Autumn Colours
Wednesday 20 September, 2017
This autumn, you can explore North Norfolk’s colourful coastal landscape and culture as part of NWT’s ...
2017-07-24 Cley Calling - Summer Sea Cley Calling - Summer Sea
Monday 24 July, 2017
Dive into summer and celebrate life beneath the waves on the North Norfolk Coast This summer, you can explore North...
2017-07-19 Norfolk's biggest BioBlitz Norfolk's biggest BioBlitz
Wednesday 19 July, 2017
This weekend (22 & 23 July 2017) Norfolk will see one of the largest wildlife surveys conducted in the county. ...
2016-09-30 New report calls for 48 new pr New report calls for 48 new protected areas at sea
Friday 30 September, 2016
Today The Wildlife Trusts publish a new report, ‘The case for more Marine Conservation Zones’. The report...
2016-01-17 Second wave of marine protecti Second wave of marine protection welcomed by Norfolk Wildlife Trust
Sunday 17 January, 2016
Today Norfolk Wildlife Trust welcomes the news that this Government is designating a second phase of 23 new Marine Co...
2015-01-31 Norfolk’s recommended MCZ is i Norfolk’s recommended MCZ is included in the consultation
Saturday 31 January, 2015
The long-awaited consultation on the next stages of Marine Conservation Zone (MCZs) designation in English and non-de...
2015-01-13 Consultation on Marine Conserv Consultation on Marine Conservation Zones expected this month
Tuesday 13 January, 2015
Norfolk Wildlife Trust has high hopes that the Cromer Shoal Chalk Beds in Norfolk will be one of the sites included i...
2014-11-13 Sydney Long Medal awarded to m Sydney Long Medal awarded to marine duo
Thursday 13 November, 2014
Norfolk's most prestigious award for naturalists, the Sydney Long Memorial Medal has been jointly awarded to Rob ...
2014-11-04 Megafauna hotspots - the missi Megafauna hotspots - the missing link in marine protection
Tuesday 04 November, 2014
New report highlights need to protect important places for dolphins, whales and basking sharks Today a new report id...
2014-07-27  Make the most of our coast! Make the most of our coast!
Sunday 27 July, 2014
We do love to be beside the seaside! Everyone remembers childhood trips to the seaside, peering into rockpools and...
2014-06-10 NWT rallies marine advocates NWT rallies marine advocates
Tuesday 10 June, 2014
Support for the proper protection of our seas is being sought by Norfolk Wildlife Trust through a new campaign. With...


Coastal sand dunes Coastal sand dunes
Marine Marine
Rockpools Rockpools
Saltmarshes and mudflats Saltmarshes and mudflats
Vegetated coastal shingle Vegetated coastal shingle