Media Release: Collaboration is key in turning research into nature recovery

Collaboration between academics, land managers/farmers and conservation groups leads to evidence-based framework for conservation

Iconic Norfolk coastal habitats among most important in UK for biodiversity

Research provides basis for local nature recovery and landscape recovery schemes 

Innovative and challenging ideas for creating or extending natural habitats

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 North Norfolk’s iconic coastal habitats, to help guide decisions about how to manage, protect and expand them in the future.

Undertaken by the research team at the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of East Anglia (UEA), the audit has been developed in an exciting and innovative collaboration between UEA, the Norfolk Coast Partnership (NCP) and the North Norfolk Coastal Group (NNCG) – a consortium of farmers, landowners, conservationists, environmentalists, government agencies and local authorities, whose aim is to help land managers along the coast to maintain and enhance its biodiversity. The project was co-financed by Norfolk County Council, Natural England, farmers, private landowners and non-governmental conservation organisations.!

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. 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. For me as the facilitator it has been a privilege to work with so many different organisations, landowners, and land managers and not least the UEA in a united, collaborative, and scientific way for the benefit of nature in our local 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.

Among the variety of habitats within this landscape 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. The biodiversity audit is the starting point for a collaboration that will place academic and robustly produced evidence in front of land managers and conservations working at ground level. It identifies important and yet often simple actions that can be taken to protect, sustain and recover biodiversity across one of the UK’s most iconic and important landscapes and the Norfolk Coast Partnership absolutely encourages this integrated type of future land management.”

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.”

While the task ahead may seem big, it is by taking this collaborative approach that the contributors to the biodiversity audit – be they academics, farmers or conservationists – can most successfully work together to achieve landscape-scale nature recovery. 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. !

Photo © Andrew Bloomfield 

Caption: The Norfolk Coast supports the UK’s largest colony of Eurasian Spoonbills; the biodiversity audit revealed that their favoured habitats also support more than 2,000 invertebrate and plant species, including around 180 that are threatened or highly localised.




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About the North Norfolk Coastal Group

The North Norfolk Coastal Group is a consortium of farmers, landowners, conservationists, environmentalists, government agencies and local authorities, whose aim is to help land managers along the coast to maintain and enhance its biodiversity.

About the Norfolk Coast Partnership

The role of the Norfolk Coast Partnership is to manage the Norfolk Coast Area of Outstanding

Natural Beauty (AONB) on behalf of the four local authorities who share responsibility for it: Norfolk County Council, North Norfolk District Council, Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk, and Great Yarmouth Borough Council, and Natural England as Government adviser on landscape. The work of the Partnership balances the statutory duty of conserving and enhancing natural beauty with non-statutory requirements to meet the AONB’s social and economic needs. This means that protecting the landscape relies on a principle of sensitive management rather than on the attempt to preserve the area entirely unchanged.