Designated Wildlife Sites damage

The Wildlife Trusts provides the Natural England (NE) report on the surge and flood impacts bringing about overtopping and undermining of numerous designated sites over 2013/2014 at  Here is an excerpt:

The coastal flooding of December, 2013 and early January, 2014 has affected at least 48 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIsSSSI Site of special scientific interest), including 22 National Nature Reserves (NNRsNNR National Nature Reserves). Natural England estimate that, a maximum of c.4,500 ha of designated coastal nature conservation sites in England were flooded.

In most cases this flooding resulted from waves overtopping seawalls and shingle/dune ridges, but in a few cases significant breaches of seawalls occurred. The sites affected mostly comprise coastal grazing marsh (grasslands with wet ditches), saline lagoons and reed bed. All of these sites are of national importance (SSSIs) and 37 of the 48 are also of international importance (SPASPA Special Protection Areas (SPAs) are strictly protected sites classified in accordance with Article 4 of the EC Birds Directive, which came into force in April 1979. They are classified for rare and vulnerable birds (as listed on Annex I of the Directive), and for regularly occurring migratory species./SACSAC Special Areas of Conservation/RamsarRAMSAR The Convention on Wetlands is of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar Convention or Wetlands Convention) was adopted in Ramsar, Iran in February 1971 and entered into force in December 1975. The Convention covers all aspects of wetland conservation and wise use. The Convention has three main 'pillars' of activity: + the designation of wetlands of international importance as Ramsar sites + the promotion of the wise-use of all wetlands in the territory of each country + and international co-operation with other countries to further the wise-use of wetlands and their resources. The Convention's Contracting Parties have assumed a wide range of related obligations. As of December 2003 there were 138 Contracting Parties to the Convention, with 1,328 Ramsar sites covering over 111 million hectares.).

Seawalls protecting at least 8 conservation sites were breached in Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent and the Tees estuary. In some locations, mainly Norfolk, there are multiple breaches to seawalls. NE is assessing the situation but it is possible that the existing conservation interest of the North Norfolk SPA may be compromised by the extent of habitat change.

Three large seal colonies were inundated by flood water: Donna Nook in Lincolnshire, and Blakeney Point and Winterton to Horsey Dunes in Norfolk. This is the pupping season and young seal pups have been washed away. Losses are being assessed but at least 170 pups were lost at Winterton. There is damage to infrastructure on many sites, including visitor centres, bird-watching hides, footpaths and fencing. The conservation interest and ecology of most coastal sites means that they are able to recover from periodic winter inundation. However, on a small number of sites, the Environment Agency and Internal Drainage Boards have been pumping to evacuate saline water from freshwater sites to aid recovery.

There has clearly been significant erosion in North-West England, The Severn Estuary and along the Channel coast as a result of the flooding 3rd to 6th January — but impacts are still being assessed. At some coastal sites the impacts are so severe that restoration may be challenging in terms of resources required, technical feasibility or long-term sustainability.

The list below indicates those SSSIs, as of 10th January, 2014, that Natural England believes fall into this ‘priority site’ category. Additional sites may be identified as priorities in due course as our assessment of impacts is completed.

The Humber and Lincolnshire

  • Humber Estuary SSSISSSI Site of special scientific interest — Over-washing and major change to the spit at Spurn NNRNNR National Nature Reserves. Help Yorkshire Wildlife Trust at Spurn — see events here.
  • Saltfleetby — Theddlethorpe Dunes SSSI and NNR — Freshwater marsh inundated and Natterjack Toad dune breeding ponds damaged.
  • Gibraltar Point SSSI and NNR — Breaches of seawalls and significant tidal inundation of freshwater marsh. See Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust’s coastal flood appeal here.


  • North Norfolk Coast SSSI — Titchwell Marshes. Dunes reduced in height and West Bank overtopped. East Bank may be structurally compromised. Saline inundation to freshwater marsh and fen meadow.
  • North Norfolk Coast SSSI — Brancaster West Marsh. Seawall breaches and freshwater marsh inundated with sea water. Possible implications for Titchwell.
  • North Norfolk Coast SSSI — Burnham Deepdale/Norton Marshes. Significant breaches to seawalls. Grazing marsh inundated.
  • North Norfolk Coast SSSI — Blakeney Freshes (part of Blakeney NNR). Significant breaches and inundation. Potential medium-term managed realignment in the North Norfolk SMP.
  • North Norfolk Coast SSSI — Cley — Salthouse Marshes. Overtopping and significant breaches to shingle ridge and seawall (the latter now repaired). See Norfolk Wildlife Trust info and appeals here.
  • The Wash SSSI and NNR — Snettisham. Shingle bank breached and saline lagoons flooded.
  • Winterton — Horsey Dunes SSSI and Winterton NNR – Dune losses and breaches.


  • Alde-Ore Estuary SSSI — Severe, multiple breaches to seawalls. Extensive inundation. Also seawall breaches and impacts on Havergate Island (an RSPB reserve).
  • • Minsmere — Walberswick Heaths and Marshes SSSI – Shingle ridges breached or overtopped. Significant freshwater habitat inundation. Insecure wall on Blythe Estuary. Dingle Marshes shingle bank breached (though likely to self-heal). Area between Dunwich and Walberswick open to tide.
  • Pakefield to Easton Bavents SSSI and Benacre NNR — Easton Broad (part of NNR) shingle ridge breached. Freshwater reed beds and saline lagoons inundated. Shingle ridge needs assessing.

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